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French Caribbean - report

Sarkozy responds to Guadeloupe strike after a month of crisis

by Sarah Elzas

Article published on the 2009-02-20 Latest update 2009-02-20 10:42 TU

The LKP at the negotiating table (L) with repesentatives of the prefecture (R) (Photo: Sarah Elzas)

The LKP at the negotiating table (L) with repesentatives of the prefecture (R)
(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

As the general strike on the French West Indian island of Guadeloupe marked its 30th day, French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised more than half a billion euros in subsidies in a televised address. Sarkozy, who has been criticised for being slow to respond to the crisis, promised to go to the island if the current unrest dies down. Srike leaders dubbed the offer 'unclear".

Report: Strike leaders after negotiations

20/02/2009 by Sarah Elzas

Guadeloupe has been paralysed since 20 January, when the LKP, the group bringing together unions, politicians and community groups, called the stoppage in protest of the high cost of living.

Union leaders start the march Thursday afternoon(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

Union leaders start the march Thursday afternoon
(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

On Thursday, Sarkozy met with parliamentarians and senators of France's overseas departments in Paris, and then laid out financial proposals in a speech broadcast locally.

"I know the frustrations, the wounds, the suffering that need to be
overcome," said Sarkozy on RFO television.

"I know the current economic crisis reveals old problems that we never
really tried to resolve," he continued, before offering immediate and
more long-term proposals.

He offered France's four overseas departments a range of financial
proposals underwritten by the government, including a salary increase
for low-wage workers, which is top of the Guadeloupe strikers' demands.

Thursday evening, union leaders and employer representatives gathered with Guadeloupe's Prefect in a room at the Pointe-à-Pitre port to discuss the proposals, the details of which had been sent by Prime
Minister Francois Fillon.

The LKP made a show of walking from their headquarters to the port as
a group, guarded by a ring of stewards, wearing blue shirts declaring them to be LKP Security.

Police allowed negotiators to enter one by one into the building,
followed by the press. But the meeting was closed-door.

Hundreds of supporters had followed them through the streets, and they stayed outside for the duration of the negotiations, with some drumming and singing, to pass the time.

Strike leaders emerged two hours later, while a helicopter carrying
the Prefect took off from the port. Employer representatives did not
appear, apparently having left by the back way.

The LKP said nothing had been decided in the meeting, and that
negotiations would resume the next day.

"The proposals strike us as particularly unclear," said LKP leader
Elie Domota as he emerged into a scrum of reporters.

Then, speaking to the crowd through a megaphone, he said that the strike would continue until their demands were met. The crowd responded with cheers

Earlier Thursday, between 15,000 and 20,000 people marched through the streets of Pointe-à-Pitre in support of the strike movement. The mood was subdued after the death of union member Jacques
Binot Tuesday night.

Police were conspicuously absent along the route.

After being assured her last name would not be used, Elodie, a 17-year-old high school senior who was watching the march, admitted that she had been involved in some of the previous night's violence on the barricades around town.

"If there had been barricades like that - and things had been
really blocked since 20 January - I think that we could have won a
while ago," she said.

By engaging with the police, setting fire to barricades and throwing stones, the younger people woke the authorities up to Guadeloupe's problems, she said.

José Bové(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

José Bové
(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

The LKP has stressed it does not condone violence.

Whether it was the burning barricades, or the death of a union
member, or just the sheer length of time it's been going on, the
strike has attracted notice lately. And not just from the President.

Anti-globalisation activist José Bové arrived on the island Wednesday
night to lend his support. On Thursday morning he said that the
government's proposal to underwrite salary increases for low-wage
workers is flawed.

"There's no money given by the big companies here," he said. "These companies have been making a lot of money on the population, and they don't want to share with the workers."

Interview: José Bové in Guadeloupe

20/02/2009 by Sarah Elzas

Negotiations between strikers and employers resume Friday afternoon at 3 pm local time.