Guadeloupe closes schools after coronavirus riots
throat – Schools across the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe closed on Monday and the French president warned of a “highly explosive” situation in the territory, after protests against COVID-19 rules and vaccinations turned into days of rioting and looting.
The French central government sent special police forces to try to restore order to the former colony, where emergency workers said they were unable to reach neighborhoods besieged by angry crowds.
“We have many patients” in the besieged La Buchanan region, tweeted Patrick Portekop, head of the regional emergency service.
Guadeloupe’s education ministry ordered schools for all ages to close on Monday “taking into account the situation”, and asked parents to keep their children at home.
Demonstrations erupted in Guadeloupe, a French overseas province of about 400,000 people, over France’s mandatory vaccinations for health care workers and the COVID-19 health card, which is required to enter restaurants and many other places across France. As they turned into a riot, an 80-year-old woman was shot while on her balcony and at least two others were injured, according to local authorities.
While mainland France has seen similar protests, protesters in Guadeloupe are also angry at deep-rooted economic, social and racial inequality, and have expanded their demands in recent days to include a general salary increase, higher unemployment benefits and more teachers.
Guadeloupe’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is 33%, compared to 75% nationwide, which authorities blame on false information about vaccines posted online. There is also mistrust towards central authorities caused by past health scandals.
Amazement, sadness, resignation, indifference – the mood in Pointe ah Peter changes from one street to another. Police are clearing the main roads of roadblocks that have made movement difficult for days. Smoke rises from piles of burnt garbage and electrical equipment. Nails, broken glass and logs littered the streets as a woman searched the charred remains of her home.
Outside the main hospital, striking workers set up a camp against mandatory vaccinations for health workers, and sympathizers bring food.
The president of Guadeloupe, Ari Chalus, denounced the looting, saying, “We cannot destroy what we have built together.” But he noted that the riots “are about more than just a mandatory vaccination,” and lamented on regional television that the central government had not responded to requests for economic support “as quickly as it sent law enforcement” to quell the riots.
There is a very explosive situation, and there is a very local context. “There are tensions that we know are historical,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday.
He urged efforts to convince people “that a vaccine is the best protection, and not to compromise on lies and manipulation. …Public order must be maintained. Guadeloupe has the right to calm down.”
Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.
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