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Amid riots, France to consider some autonomy for Guadeloupe

France’s government is offering to discuss some autonomy for the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, which has been wracked by virus-related rioting and strikes that reflect long-running frustrations over inequality with the French mainland.

The overnight offer by the government minister for overseas affairs, Sebastien Lecornu, drew sharp criticism Saturday from conservative and far right candidates for France’s April presidential election.

Guadeloupe uses the euro currency and has close political ties with the mainland. But high unemployment in Guadeloupe and nearby Martinique, high costs of living and lingering anger over historical abuses have prompted some local officials to demand change. Both Guadeloupe and Martinique are overseas departments of France.

Marylis Colzin, a nurse protesting France's mandatory vaccinations for health care workers, poses in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe island, Sunday, Nov.21, 2021. French authorities are sending police special forces to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, an overseas territory of France, as protests over COVID-19 restrictions erupted into rioting. In Pointe-a-Pitre, the island's largest urban area, clashes left three people injured, including a 80-year-old woman who was hit by a bullet while on her balcony. (AP PhotoElodie Soupama)

“Some officials have asked the question of autonomy,” Lecornu said in a televised address Friday night to Guadeloupe residents. “According to them, Guadeloupe could manage itself better” than it is managed from Paris, and they notably want more autonomy to manage health-related issues locally, he said. “The government is ready to talk about it.”

He denounced rioters whose pillaging is hurting local merchants and workers, and whose road barricades are preventing some patients from getting medical treatment and forced schools to close. But he also acknowledged “structural issues” behind the anger, and called for a “collective" response.

The recent tensions in Guadeloupe and Martinique started because of France's obligatory vaccinations for health care workers, and nationwide health pass to get into restaurants and other venues. To get the pass, people need to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test or recent recovery from the virus.

Emilie shows how she escaped her home during a fire after riots in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe island, Sunday, Nov.21, 2021. French authorities are sending police special forces to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, an overseas territory of France, as protests over COVID-19 restrictions erupted into rioting. In Pointe-a-Pitre, the island's largest urban area, clashes left three people injured, including a 80-year-old woman who was hit by a bullet while on her balcony. A firefighter and a police officer were also injured and several shops were looted there and in other towns. (AP PhotoElodie Soupama)

But the protesters demands have spread to include higher salaries and jobless benefits and the hiring of more teachers.

A third of the Guadeloupe population lives below the poverty line, and unemployment rate is 17%. The cost of living, meanwhile, is high because the island relies heavily on imports from the mainland. Water supplies have been a major problem in recent years because of obsolete pipes. Some residents denounce a relationship with Paris reminiscent of colonial times, and note an ongoing scandal over the use of a dangerous pesticide on islands in the Antilles for years after it was banned on the mainland.

The French government on Friday decided to delay mandatory vaccinations for health care workers in the region until Dec. 31.

Reporters work by charred shop and building in a s street of Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe island, Sunday, Nov.21, 2021. French authorities are sending police special forces to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, an overseas territory of France, as protests over COVID-19 restrictions erupted into rioting. In Pointe-a-Pitre, the island's largest urban area, clashes left three people injured, including a 80-year-old woman who was hit by a bullet while on her balcony. A firefighter and a police officer were also injured and several shops were looted there and in other towns. (AP PhotoElodie Soupama)

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Charred car are pictured in a s street of Le Gosier, Guadeloupe island, Sunday, Nov.21, 2021. French authorities sent police special forces to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, an overseas territory of France, as protests over COVID-19 restrictions erupted into rioting and looting for the third day in a row. On Sunday, many road blockades by protesters made traveling across the island nearly impossible. (AP PhotoElodie Soupama)