Strikes that have nearly frozen everyday life on France’s Caribbean islands burst into clashes on Monday as police laid into striking protesters angry at soaring prices and a wealthy white elite.
In Martinique, about 10,000 demonstrators marched through Fort-de-France to express their outrage over spiralling food prices and to denounce the business elite.
And in Guadeloupe, police detained about 50 people after coming under a barrage of stones as they tried to take down barricades.
Strikers were sprayed with tear gas and several, including union leader Alex Lollia, were injured.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who deployed more than 100 riot police to the region last week, said that barricades ‘are not part of the legal means of expression.’
Government offices, schools, banks and shops have been closed for most of the past 12 days as residents of the French overseas departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique demand lower prices and higher wages.
Living costs are high on the islands, which depend heavily on imports and use the euro.
The strike is exposing racial and class tensions on Guadeloupe and Martinique, where a white elite that makes up 1 per cent of the population controls most businesses.
The leader of the Collective Against Exploitation (LKP), which organised Guadeloupe’s strike, warned that deadly escalation is possible.
Elie Domota warned in a TV interview that ‘there will be deaths if anyone injures a member of the LKP or a striker on Guadeloupe.’
Over 10,000 tourists have cancelled planned holidays in Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Several hotels in Guadeloupe reported on Monday that they could not accept guests because protesters were congregating outside and staff did not show up for work.