Leaders of Martinique in France call for calm amid unrest over pandemic measures


Nov. 24 (Reuters) – The leaders of the French Caribbean island of Martinique on Wednesday called for calm amid protests against measures to control the coronavirus pandemic, as unrest that first erupted on the neighboring island of Guadeloupe continued to spread.

Residents angry with the handling of the pandemic, and in particular the vaccination requirements of health workers, have erected barricades on fire in recent days and, in some cases, exchanged gunfire with police.

Vaccination mandates also apply in mainland France, but have touched a sore spot among the islands’ majority black population – some of whom describe them as a return to the era of slavery and say they should be able to decide themselves – even health treatments.

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Serge Letchimy and Lucien Saliber of the Martinique Territorial Collective, or CTM, the administrative body that manages the island, condemned the violence that had taken place near the barricades erected as part of the demonstrations.

“We must call everyone to calm,” wrote the CTM on its Twitter account.

Previously, BFM TV in France, citing police, said shots were fired overnight for a second night in a row.

The shooting lasted several hours, specified BFM TV, specifying that the situation was still “very tense”.

Alexane Ozier-Lafontaine, 21, a teacher from Martinique who joined the protests, said people were angry at issues such as the vaccine’s mandate and the cancellation of a local holiday. She also said tourists faced fewer restrictions on their travel than locals.

“People are very angry about this,” Ozier-Lafontaine said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, adding that she heard gunshots on Tuesday night.

Protesters also spoke of anger over the use of a chemical pesticide called chlordecone in banana plantations in Guadeloupe and Martinique, which has been linked to unusually high rates of prostate cancer on both islands.

Farm workers have been exposed for decades to chlordecone, a situation that French President Emmanuel Macron has called an “environmental scandal,” according to French media.

Gunshots have also targeted the police in recent days in Guadeloupe, where a general strike began in a second week on Monday.

The Caribbean has been hit in recent weeks by a new wave of coronavirus infections that are causing lockdowns and cancellations of flights and overwhelming hospitals, just as tourism has started to show signs of recovery. Read more

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Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten on Paris and Kate Chappell in Kingston, written by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Alex Richardson

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