'Explosive' COVID-19 riots paralyze France's Guadeloupe

Amandine Ascensio - Agence France-Presse
'Explosive' COVID-19 riots paralyze France's Guadeloupe
This picture shows the deserted marina in Le Gosier outside Pointe-a-Pitre on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe on November 22, 2021, following days of rioting against Covid-19 measures.

POINTE-À-PITRE, France — School cancelled, barricades on the street and pharmacies trashed: days of rioting against measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 have brought normal routines on France's Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to a standstill.

Paris authorities sent elite police and counter-terrorism officers to Guadeloupe over the weekend in a bid to quell the violence, the latest Covid-related headache in France's overseas territories for the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

Vaccination rates in France's overseas territories, in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific, have generally been far lower than those on the mainland and there has been repeated unrest over anti-virus measures.

Protests in Guadeloupe, a territory of roughly 400,000 people, broke out after an announcement that coronavirus jabs would be mandatory for all healthcare workers, with the demonstrations marred by clashes and looting.

Overnight Sunday, police arrested 38 people after curfew violators looted and torched shops and pharmacies, and two security forces were injured.

Macron acknowledged the gravity of the situation and urged local politicians not to mix the pressing issue of Covid with colonial-era grievances and also longstanding complaints the territory is economically neglected by Paris.  

"We will not give in to lies, distorting of information and the exploitation by some people of this situation," he told reporters on a visit to the northern French city of Amiens, calling the situation "very explosive".

"We do not play with health and we will not let the health of the French be played with for the sake of political infighting," he added.

'Situation remains uncertain'

The police reinforcements began dismantling protesters' road barricades shortly after their arrival, according to Colonel Jean Pierre from the gendarmerie in Pointe-a-Pitre, the island's main city.

Later on Monday, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, after holding a videoconference with local officials, that a forum for dialogue was being created to help healthcare professionals who might be worried by the vaccine obligation.

The barricades had impeded traffic, forcing the closure of schools on Guadeloupe's main island on Monday, the education ministry said. 

The Guadeloupe prefecture said protesters fired on security forces and firefighters, adding that "organised gangs" were now also involved in the unrest.

Even though some barricades had been dismantled, "the situation remains uncertain concerning road traffic and the possibility of staff and students moving smoothly and safely seems compromised at this stage", the local authorities said in a statement. 

Thirty people will appear in court on Monday in Pointe-a-Pitre for allegedly participating in the unrest, according to local prosecutor Patrick Desjardins.

'Intolerable and unacceptable'

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal called the situation "intolerable and unacceptable" and vowed a tough response against a "small minority" who were intimidating health workers, preventing pharmacies from opening and even using barricades to block ambulances.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew from 6:00 pm to 5:00 am is currently set to last until Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Guadeloupe's main trade union the UGTG called for continued protests.

While the demonstrations were sparked by the vaccine mandate, they also express "the depth of suffering, inequality, poverty and exclusion felt by the people, notably youths and the elderly," said UGTG secretary general Maite Hubert M'Toumo.

Since summer, Guadeloupe's vaccination drive has picked up, with 90 percent of healthcare workers vaccinated, as well as nearly half the general population. 

In mainland France, the vaccinate rate is close to 75 percent of the population.

In the neighbouring French overseas territory of Martinique meanwhile, a general strike has been called for Monday, calling for an end to obligatory vaccination for health workers but also for wage rises and other social grievances. — Jerome RIVET in Amiens

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: November 25, 2021 - 7:49am

As the pandemic, and quarantine restrictions around it, stretches on, some sectors have revived protests against lockdowns and, in some jursidictions, mandatory vaccination. 

Photo: Demonstrators march during a "Men in Black" protest against new government Covid-19 restrictions in Copenhagen, Denmark, November 20, 2021. 

November 25, 2021 - 7:49am

A Dutch judge jailed two people on Wednesday for throwing stones at police during riots in Rotterdam, in the first sentences concerning days of unrest over the government's coronavirus measures.

A woman identified as Sharon M., 26, from the neighbouring town of Spijkenisse, and a man named as Terence van den B., 29, from nearby Delft, were both sentenced to five months in prison with two months suspended.

Sharon M. was ordered to pay 1,000 euros for damage to police cars while both were banned from Rotterdam's main Coolsingel shopping area for one year under a fast-track sentencing. — AFP

November 22, 2021 - 10:04am

A fresh wave of protests broke out in several European cities and in some French overseas territories Sunday, as protesters reacted, sometimes violently, to moves to reintroduce coronavirus restrictions.

Police and protesters clashed in the Belgian capital Brussels, in several Dutch cities and overnight into early Sunday in the French Caribbean territory Guadaloupe.

There were fresh demonstrations in Austria, where the government is imposing a new lockdown and Covid-19 vaccine mandate.

In Brussels, violence broke out at a protest against anti-Covid measures which police said was attended by 35,000 people. — AFP

November 21, 2021 - 9:41am

Fresh rioting broke out late Saturday over the Dutch government's coronavirus measures, with rioters pelting police with stones and fireworks as protests turned violent for a second night in the Netherlands.

Officers in riot gear charged groups of demonstrators in The Hague, while a water cannon was used to put out a pile of blazing bicycles at a busy intersection. Five police officers were injured and at least seven people arrested.

Riots also erupted in the central "Bible Belt" town of Urk and cities in southern Limburg province, while angry fans disrupted two football matches being played behind closed doors because of coronavirus rules, Dutch media said.

The previous night an "orgy of violence" broke out in the port city of Rotterdam, during which three people were wounded when police opened fire and 51 suspects were arrested.

The Netherlands went back into Western Europe's first partial lockdown of the winter last Saturday with at least three weeks of curbs, and is now planning to ban unvaccinated people from entering some venues, the so-called 2G option. — AFP

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