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French Guiana protestors press demands

Protestors in French Guiana are demanding the government signs a draft accord on an emergency package and reopens talks on further funds © AFP/File / GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT

CAYENNE, France, Apr 18 – The movement behind more than three weeks of social unrest in French Guiana said Monday it would press its action until the government signs a draft accord on an emergency package and reopens talks on further funds.

Activists are protesting against what they say is decades of under-investment in the French territory in South America, paralysed by a general strike which 37 unions called on March 25.

Locals have been pressing demands for a “Marshall Plan” of French aid, along the lines of the huge US economic support given to help western Europe to recover after World War II.

The seven-page accord “to suspend the movement in its present form”, drawn up by the “Collective to Get Guiana Moving” spearheading the protests, was sent to the government on Sunday.

“To have a swift signature, we have an obligation to harden the movement,” Valerie Vanoukia, representative of very small companies in Guiana, said on behalf of the collective after a general meeting calling on the population to remobilise.

She said the barricades which had been lifted for Easter would be back in place from Monday night.

The draft accord calls for an emergency plan of more than one billion euros ($1.07 billion) put forward by the government and proposes reopening dialogue on an additional two billion euros the protestors have demanded so far.

Vanoukia stressed that in the original government text, questions on health, education, land and the communes “have not received any real answers”.

She said two points were non-negotiable: “The government must act on the fact that the Guianese people want to take charge”.

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And she insisted that no demonstrators taking part in the movement would face punishment.

“We accept the resumption of the dialogue that the president of the republic has proposed to us,” she said, and “to have a quick response, we will continue raising the pressure” just before the first round of the French presidential election this weekend.

Vanoukia said she was “very confident to say that the movement will be suspended in the next two or three days”.

A blockade of the port in the capital Cayenne has seen the flow of fresh produce slow to a dribble in the territory bordering Surinam and northern Brazil on the northeast coast of South America, some 7,000 kilometres (4,400 miles) from Paris.

The protests also led to the indefinite postponement of an Arianespace rocket launch at Europe’s Guiana Space Centre in Kourou.

The Kourou space centre has become a symbol of economic disparity in Guiana and a focus for anger, given many locals have no electricity or running water and around one in four is jobless.

Guiana has been administered as a French region since the end of the 18th century and was also used as a place to send convicts for forced labour between 1852 and 1946.

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