France ‘throwing toys out of pram’ says former special adviser

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A French delegation, led by minister for overseas territories Sebastien Lecornu, is making the trip to Guadeloupe amid a dangerous rise in tensions following more than a week of unrest. Guadeloupe and Martinique have been hit by several days of protests against various Covid measures that have spilled over into violence. The plan for compulsory vaccination of health workers triggered sentiment among the majority Black population on the islands.

They have claimed they are being excluded and marginalised from the mainland, despite the same measure being already in place on the mainland.

But the issue has sparked a furious reaction, with anger intensifying over living standards and the relationship with Paris.

Protesters have insisted they should be in a position to make their own choices about health treatment.

An official close to minister Mr Lecornu does not believe the crisis talks will result in a solution to the crisis, but is confident tensions can be significantly calmed.

The insider told Reuters: “I don’t think we will return to Paris necessarily having resolved the whole crisis, but if we take things bit by bit and methodically, it will calm things and open a constructive dialogue with all the actors.”

On Friday, the Government postponed a requirement for all public sector health workers on Guadeloupe and Martinique to be vaccinated.

But local officials are demanding more dialogue with the Central Government.

Protests began in Guadeloupe more than a week ago as tensions over the handling of the pandemic threatened to boil over.

But on Saturday, unions in Martinique signed an accord with local officials and the state to begin negotiations over a number of issues such as health, energy prices, youth and transport.

Over recent days, curfews have helped to calm anger after violence that saw stores looted and police shot at.

Late on Friday, Mr Lecornu had said it is willing to discuss autonomy for the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe if it is in the interests of the people who live there.

He said during a YouTube video certain elected officials on the island had raised the question of autonomy, changing its status as an overseas region.

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The minister stated: “The government is ready to talk about this.

“There are no bad debates, as long as those debates serve to resolve the real everyday problems of people in Guadeloupe.”

Early last week, French interior minister Gerald Darmanin admitted the situation remains “very difficult” in Guadeloupe – despite Prime Minister Jean Castex’s call for calm there.

He told France Inter radio on Tuesday: “There are still scenes of extreme violence with police forces being shot at with real ammunition.”

Just 24 hours earlier, a general strike had entered its second week and several stores had their shutters down following mass looting.

This had come despite Mr Darmanin stating the 200 extra police officers deployed since last Sunday had helped calm some of the tensions.

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