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Martinique strike turns violentby Open-Publishing - Saturday 7 March 2009
Martinique strike turns violent, mayor urges calm
A general strike in the French Caribbean island of Martinique turned violent on Friday as protesters clashed with business owners who organized their own peaceful protest.
Hundreds of police launched tear gas as protesters threw rocks and bottles and set cars and garbage bins on fire.
Martinique’s prefect, Ange Mancini, said four police officers were slightly injured. He asked residents to remain indoors.
Employers were confronted as they held a peaceful protest and asked Mancini to allow businesses to reopen. Protesters responded with roadblocks across Fort-de-France to halt the convoy of cars that stretched for several kilometers (miles).
Police said in a statement that a group of protesters marched toward the convoy and began to hit those inside the cars, which they also damaged.
"We were caught in a trap," said Jean-Francois Hayot, a business union member who criticized police as slow to react. "There were people who were clobbered and their cars vandalized."
Police said some business owners were slightly injured but did not have more details.
Union leaders called the protest against the strike a provocation by the business elites.
"Business owners and salaried employers who want to work do not have the right to protest!" said Juvenal Remir, president of Codema-Modef, a large agriculture union.
Strike negotiations were suspended for the day.
Union leaders blamed the chaos on the bekes, a minority group descendent of slaveholders that controls most of the economy.
"The provocation of the beke employers, in wanting to come to Fort-de-France, has produced these predictable effects and that translates into the same arrogance they express in the negotiations," said Philippe Pierre-Charles, member of the CMDT union that represents hundreds workers.
An agreement reached earlier this week to raise workers’ pay by 200 euros (US$252) was not accepted by all unions. Discussions over farming, education and other issues are still ongoing.
In the nearby island of Guadeloupe, union leaders have agreed to suspend a 44-day-old strike as most of their demands continue to be met.
The strikes on both islands paralyzed the economy, closed schools and prompted thousands of tourists to cancel their vacations.