Anger over vaccine mandate in French overseas territory Guadeloupe created an “explosive” situation, President Emmanuel Macron said.
A general strike called by unions took its second week after evenings of looting and violent protests against coronavirus measures imposed by Paris, including health pass rules and compulsory vaccinations for health workers.
Macron’s prime minister and legislators from the Caribbean archipelago will hold crisis talks in Paris on Monday.
The home of about 400,000 inhabitants, Guadeloupe Police 38 people were arrested overnight on Sunday after offenders looted shops and pharmacies and set them on fire.
“We just do not know how far it will go,” the mayor of Point-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe’s capital, told France Info radio.
French media reported this on Sunday rioters broke into an arms depot in Pointe-a-Pitre and took guns.
Guadeloupe has been hit by violent protests before, the mayor said, but there are now “major concerns” on the island because rioters had guns.
Guadeloupe officials said protesters had fired on security forces and firefighters, adding that “organized gangs” had now joined the riots.
The city was largely quiet on Monday with schools closed and barricades in the streets as most shops remain closed.
France has deployed 200 extra police officers, including elite commandos, to Guadeloupe to quell the unrest.
A twilight-to-dawn evening clock rule from 18:00 to 05:00 local time (22:00 – 0900 GMT) will currently run until Tuesday.
Anger over vaccine mandates and coronavirus restrictions led to broader questions about the archipelago’s relationship with Paris.
Over the weekend, Guadeloupe’s main union, the UGTG, called for continued protests.
While the protests began with the vaccine mandate, it also expresses “the depth of suffering, inequality, poverty and exclusion felt by the people, especially youth and the elderly,” said Maite Hubert M’Toumo, secretary general of the UGTG, said.
Macron acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and urged local politicians not to raise issues related to coronavirus rules with colonial era grievances and protracted complaints, the area is economically neglected by Paris.
“We will not give in to lies, distortion of information and the exploitation by some people of this situation,” Macron said on Monday during a visit to northern France, calling the situation “very explosive”.
“We are not playing with health and we will not allow the health of the French to be played with for the sake of political infighting,” he added. “We have to explain, explain, explain and convince, convince, convince, because one should not play around with people’s health.”
Vaccination rates in France’s overseas territories, in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific, were generally much lower than those on the mainland and there was repeated unrest over antivirus measures.
In the neighboring French overseas territory of Martinique, about 190 km (118 miles) south of Guadeloupe, a general strike was called for Monday. Trade union leaders call for an end compulsory vaccinations for health workers. They also demonstrate in favor of wage increases and issues.