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Fuel stations reopen in French island

POINTE-A-PITRE, Feb 15 – Filling stations reopened in Guadeloupe and Martinique on Saturday, as the French government insisted the rule of law must prevail on the socially restive Caribbean islands.

Long line-ups were seen at filling stations around Guadeloupe\’s capital Pointe-a-Pitre — paralysed by a general strike over the high cost of living — a day after the authorities took over about 40 such establishments.

Similar scenes were witnessed in Martinique, with motorists queueing up before dawn to fill up their vehicles from noon (1600 GMT) after 10 days of protests against the high cost of living.

In Guadeloupe, where the general strike began on January 26, a Carrefour supermarket was reopened for business under the watchful eye of a large number of police officers.

Half a world away, however, on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, about 100 activists staged a protest inside another Carrefour outlet, marching through the aisles with banners ahead of a threatened March 5 general strike.

Shops, cafes, banks, schools and government offices have remained shut in the two French Caribbean islands while tourism — a mainstay of their economies — has taken a major hit.

Hotels have shut down and charter flights have been cancelled in response to the unrest. Heaps of garbage have meanwhile piled up in the streets after trash collectors walked off the job.

In Paris, the French minister of overseas affairs, Yves Jego, met Saturday with the head of the Competition Authority, which he said would report by mid-year on fuel and consumer product distribution in France\’s overseas territories.

While President Nicolas Sarkozy\’s centre-right government was "very willing" to help the people and economies of its far-flung territories, it intends to be "very strict to uphold the rule of law," Jego said.

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The government has said it will not give in to strikers\’ demands for a monthly 200-euro (260-dollar) increase in base salaries.

Guadeloupe, like Martinique and Reunion, uses the euro as its currency and its 450,000 residents are French citizens, but it depends to a large degree on imported goods to function.

The Socialist head of the regional council in Guadeloupe, Victorin Lurel, appealed Saturday for an easing of the general strike so children could go back to school and adults could resume their regular activities.

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