PARIS, France, Mon. Nov 22, 2022 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday protests over COVID-19 restrictions in the French overseas region of Guadeloupe have created a “very explosive” situation.
Macron was talking to journalists ahead of a meeting between the French prime minister and lawmakers from the Caribbean island scheduled later on Monday.
“We must explain, explain, explain and convince, convince, convince, because one must not play around with the peoples’ health”, Macron said.
He described the situation in Guadeloupe as “very explosive, which has a very local context and tensions which we know about, which are historic.”
Violence erupted last week after walkouts organised by the territory’s labour unions to challenge local COVID-19 restrictions such as the mandatory vaccination of health workers.
Local police have arrested at least 38 people and dozens of stores have been looted. French media reported on Sunday that rioters had broken into an arms depot in the coastal city of Pointe-a-Pitre and taken rifles.
“We just don’t know how far this will still go,” the mayor of Point-a-Pitre told France Info radio earlier on Monday.
Guadeloupe has been hit by violent protests before, but he said there were “big worries” on the island now because rioters had guns.
Over the weekend, France announced it would send police special forces to restore order in the French overseas territory. The local school authority said on Sunday that all schools in Guadeloupe would be closed on Monday.
In a sign unrest could spread to other French overseas territories in the Caribbean, trade unions called for a general strike on the island of Martinique from Monday, French media reported.
(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Christian Lowe)