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Paris sending ministerial mission to French Guiana, as unrest grows

The French government is sending a ministerial mission to French Guiana as the former colony faced a second day of strikes. The French territory suffers from a high murder rate and sky-high unemployment.

Interior Minister Matthias Fekl and Overseas Minister Erick Bareigts will travel to the French territory in South America on Wednesday, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday.

The ministers will meet with union representatives, civic and business leaders and politicians and are expected to sign off on a "Pact for Guiana" by the end of the week, Cazeneuve said, adding as long as "conditions of respect" and public order were met.

Cazeneuve also announced immediate concessions: a prison and courthouse would be built in the western border town of Saint-Laurent du Maroni and a new scanner provided at Cayenne's airport.

Members of The 500 Brothers take part in a march in support of the general strike in Cayenne, March 28.

Members of The 500 Brothers take part in a march in support of the general strike in Cayenne, March 28.

The protests have been brewing for several weeks and earlier this month dozens of masked activists from a group calling itself the 500 Brothers burst into an intergovernmental meeting in Cayenne on protecting the marine environment. This less than a month before France's presidential elections.

The strike started after complaints about high crime, the cost of living and the poor quality of health care, halting flights, disrupting a rocket launch and prompting a US travel warning.

"Today, the population has had it up to here," Davy Rimaine, general secretary of the Union of Guianese Workers, told public broadcaster France Info on Saturday.

"Those who are on the barricades aren't hardcore strikers," he said. "They are the population who have taken things into their own hands."

Labor protests in the overseas French department bordering Brazil and Suriname have also caused the postponement of the planned launch of an Ariane 5 rocket carrying communications satellites for Brazil and South Korea.

A reporter for Guyane 1ere television said many people were making their way to work on foot. The only vehicles allowed through the barricades were those of the emergency services and medical workers.

Guiana, constitutionally part of France, had a population of just under a quarter of a million in 2013, according to French statistics agency Insee.

jbh/bw (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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