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Amid riots, France to consider some autonomy for Guadeloupe

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France’s government is offering to discuss greater autonomy for the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe

PARIS — France’s government is offering to discuss some autonomy for the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, which has been wracked by virus-related rioting and strikes that reflect long-running frustrations over inequality with the French mainland.

The overnight offer by the government minister for overseas affairs, Sebastien Lecornu, drew sharp criticism Saturday from conservative and far right candidates for France’s April presidential election.

Guadeloupe uses the euro currency and has close political ties with the mainland. But high unemployment in Guadeloupe and nearby Martinique, high costs of living and lingering anger over historical abuses have prompted some local officials to demand change. Both Guadeloupe and Martinique are overseas departments of France.

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He denounced rioters whose pillaging is hurting local merchants and workers, and whose road barricades are preventing some patients from getting medical treatment and forced schools to close. But he also acknowledged “structural issues” behind the anger, and called for a “collective” response.

But the protesters demands have spread to include higher salaries and jobless benefits and the hiring of more teachers.

A third of the Guadeloupe population lives below the poverty line, and unemployment rate is 17%. The cost of living, meanwhile, is high because the island relies heavily on imports from the mainland. Water supplies have been a major problem in recent years because of obsolete pipes. Some residents denounce a relationship with Paris reminiscent of colonial times, and note an ongoing scandal over the use of a dangerous pesticide on islands in the Antilles for years after it was banned on the mainland.

The French government on Friday decided to delay mandatory vaccinations for health care workers in the region until Dec. 31.

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