By Elizabeth Pineau
Caribbean Net News
PARIS, France (Reuters): French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Thursday security forces would maintain order on the Caribbean island of Martinique after youths clashed with police overnight in a protest over economic conditions.
The unrest on Martinique has spread from the neighbouring island of Guadeloupe, where talks to end a general strike that has dragged on since January appeared to be making progress.
Protests over the high cost of living started three weeks ago. On Wednesday night youths looted several stores and clashed with police in the capital Fort-de-France, French media said.
“We will not let disorder become established in Martinique,” Fillon told reporters following a meeting with 30 deputies from France’s overseas territories.
“There is no reason for violence to interfere with negotiations and we will deploy all measures necessary to ensure the security of persons and property in Martinique.”
The dispute has been closely watched in metropolitan France where up to 2.5 million people took to the streets last month to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy’s handling of the economy and where a further day of strikes is expected on March 19.
Martinique and Guadeloupe have the status of full parts of France and the European Union, but both suffer from more than 20 percent unemployment. Prices are higher than in metropolitan France but wages are generally lower.
The conflict has been fuelled by resentment over the structure of the local economy, where whites, many descended from slave-era colonists, control most businesses and where many people feel neglected by the rest of France.
In Guadeloupe, talks between the LKP alliance that has been coordinating the strike, the government and employers appeared to have made progress over demands for a 200 euro monthly increase for lower paid workers.
Yves Jego, the minister for overseas territories, told France 3 television on Thursday that any deal in Guadeloupe would also apply to Martinique and other territories.