Britons flee French island of Guadeloupe as rioters turn on white families

Mail Online
By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 3:17 PM on 19th February 2009


Britons are among thousands of tourists fleeing Guadeloupe after full scale urban warfare erupted on the French Caribbean island.

Trouble broke out on the island earlier last month after protesters began rioting over high prices and low wages.

But the situation escalated this week after protesters began turning on rich white families as they demanded an end to colonial control of the economy.

The troubles come at the height of the holiday season, with thousands of mainly British, French and American tourists on the paradise tropical island.

Protesters were now targeting 'all white people', with the media in mainland France describing the situation as virtual civil war'.

Guadeloupe is a French overseas department ruled directly from Paris, and authorities in France have sent 300 extra riot police to the island in a bid to quell the violence.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters are roaming the streets of the capital Point-a-Pitre, looting shops and restaurants, burning cars and vandalising public buildings.

Holiday resorts along the coast have hired extra security to protect tourists, while the airport is jammed with visitors now trying to get out of the country.

Union leader Jacques Bino was the first man to die in the violence when he was caught in crossfire on Tuesday while driving a car near a roadblock manned by armed youths who had opened fire at police.

Six members of the security forces were injured during shoot-outs with the armed youths as they tried to help emergency teams who were trying to save Mr Bino's life.

Dozens more police and demonstrators have also been hurt in frequent clashes on the capital's streets - which one newspaper describing it as looking like a battlefield'.

Most shops, banks, schools and government offices are now shut in Guadeloupe and the neighbouring French tourist island of Martinique - where protests are also mounting.

Guadeloupe's socialist opposition leader Malikh Boutih said: 'It is shocking to watch a police force which is almost 100 per cent white confront a population which is 100 per cent black.

'All the same elements of the riots on mainland France in 2005 are present here.

'We don't have the same concrete buildings, there are palm trees instead, but it's the same dead-end, the same "no future" for young people, with joblessness and a feeling of isolation.' 

The first protests began a month ago when the left-wing union coalition, the Collective Against Exploitation, demanded a 180 a month pay increase for low-wage earners. 

President Nicolas Sarkozy sent his minster for overseas departments to the island to meet with union leaders on response to the demands.

But the racial tensions which have been simmering for decades exploded into full-scale rioting, with colonial descendants who own 90 per cent of the wealth becoming the focus of the violence.

The unrest was further aggravated last week when wealthy white landowner Alain Huyghues-Despointes publicly criticised mixed-race marriages and said he preferred to 'preserve his race'.

In Paris, the violence has provoked divisions in Mr Sarkozy's cabinet with black minister Rachida Data acknowledging that Guadeloupe suffered from 'a problem with the distribution of wealth'.

Laetitia Delaprade, spokeswoman at Voyages Antillais, a Paris-based travel agency that specialises in French Caribbean, said: 'People are scared. No one wants to go there and those that are there want to get out.'

Tourism Authority chief Madeleine de Grandmaison said: 'Tourism is fragile. People are not only cancelling this week, but also for all the months of February, March and April.

'We have a huge deficit of tourists ahead of us. At least 10,000 tourists have cancelled vacations in Martinique and Guadeloupe.'

The Paris-based Association of Tour Operators has now classified Guadeloupe as a 'red zone', meaning it is not endorsing it as a destination.  

A spokesman said: 'Most holidaymakers to Guadeloupe are British, American and mainland French.

'None have been hurt yet but there is the threat of violence in the air and staying there no longer feels comfortable.' 

Guadeloupe's Tourism Committee said that the main airport had also been temporarily closed yesterday because of a lack of worker, but had now reopened.

A spokesman added: 'It is very busy. Every flight leaving the island is is full