Gunshots have been fired at police in the French Caribbean island of Martinique in a sign that unrest triggered by COVID-19 restrictions that rocked the nearby island of Guadeloupe could be spreading.
No police were injured and things have calmed since the unrest overnight, a Martinique police official said on Tuesday, but traffic was still slowed by barricades erected by demonstrators.
Protesters were angry about mandatory vaccination rules for health workers, a requirement also in place in mainland France, and other restrictions related to the coronavirus.
That anger led a coalition of 17 trade union organisations to launch a general strike in Martinique on Monday. In addition to ending the vaccination obligation, protesters are also calling for salary increases and lower gas prices.
Police came under gunfire overnight on Monday when they were trying to extinguish fires set in rubbish bins that were blocking a highway, a spokesman told the AFP news agency.
“The patrols have come under fire of 9mm [bullets] on several occasions,” said Joel Larcher, a public security spokesman in Fort-de-France, Martinique’s capital. “Impacts were noted on the vehicles.”
Gunfire has also targeted police during the past few days in Guadeloupe, a neighbouring Caribbean archipelago that is also a French territory.
In Guadeloupe, a general strike has entered its second week and many stores remained shuttered after night-time looting amid protests against COVID-19 restrictions.
The situation remains “very difficult” in Guadeloupe, France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France Inter radio.
“There are still scenes of extreme violence with police forces being shot at with real ammunition,” he said, adding that some 200 additional police officers deployed since Sunday had helped to quell some of the unrest.
Compulsory vaccination has touched a nerve among the Guadeloupe population, which is descended from slaves who worked on French sugar plantations. During the 20th century, many people were also systematically exposed to toxic pesticides used in banana plantations.
The Caribbean has been hit in the second half of this year by a new wave of coronavirus infections that is causing lockdowns and flight cancellations and overwhelming hospitals, just as tourism was beginning to show signs of recovery.