Martinique riots gain force as protesters attack police, journalists

Martinique riots gain force as protesters attack police, journalists
By Reuters
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PARIS -Protests against COVID-19 restrictions in the French territory of Martinique intensified on Thursday and the situation is "very strained," a state official said on Friday, after rioters injured police officers, attacked journalists and set fire to the state representative's residence.

"Last night was clearly more intense than the nights before", a local spokesman for the French state told Reuters on Friday at around 0830 local time.

Martinique and neighboring Guadeloupe have been hit by unrest over the last week after the French government imposed tougher measures to curb the spread of the virus.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Friday said authorities in Martinique and Guadeloupe had made 10 arrests after shots were fired Thursday night, injuring several people.

Journalists from French television, news and photo agencies were attacked Thursday night, media group Altice said in a statement, confirming earlier remarks by the minister. One police officer was seriously injured and needed surgery, local authorities said.

Prosecutors said masked protesters had also tried to set fire to the gate of the official residence of the prefect, the most senior representative of the French central state there, but no significant damage had been caused.

The French government met in an urgent crisis meeting on Friday to address the developments as the riots were still ongoing, a source close the the French overseas minister said.

Compulsory vaccinations for health workers, a measure already introduced in the rest of France, has fuelled resentment among the islands' majority Black population.

Some have called the mandate a throwback to France's slavery era, insisting that they should be allowed to make their own choices about health treatment. Protesters are also calling for salary hikes and lower energy prices.

Local authorities on Martinique had ordered a curfew on Thursday after protesters looted shops and set up burning barricades.

In Guadeloupe, where protests began last week, there is a historic mistrust of the government's handling of health crises after many people were systematically exposed to toxic pesticides used in banana plantations in the 1970s.

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