Iamge: French Caribbean unrest
AP
A burned-out car and debris litter a street after a night of riots over high prices and low pay on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe on Tuesday.
updated 2/18/2009 4:03:11 PM ET 2009-02-18T21:03:11

A man was shot dead during riots and protests over the high cost of living, officials said Wednesday — the first fatality in a nearly month-old strike that has hammered this French Caribbean island's tourist industry and paralyzed daily life.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon's office in Paris condemned the slaying and said the circumstances were being investigated. He urged all involved to "stop the violence that is traumatizing all of Guadeloupe."

More than 2,000 people in Martinique, a nearby French island, marched through the capital Fort-de-France Wednesday in honor of the man killed in Guadeloupe.

Jacques Bino, a tax agent and union member, was fatally shot in a housing project in Pointe-a-Pitre as he drove home after attending a Tuesday night meeting with the LKP Collective, which organized the strike, said Nicolas Desforges, the top appointed official on the island.

Police and emergency workers could not reach Bino around midnight because rioters shot at them with hunting rifles, Desforges said by telephone. When police finally reached Bino three hours later, he was dead at the wheel.

Three police officers also were injured in the overnight violence, one with a gunshot wound to the eye, Desforges said.

France's minister for overseas departments, Yves Jego, said Bino was "assassinated by rioters." The central government in Paris called a special meeting Wednesday to discuss security on Guadeloupe and Martinique.

"Guadeloupe is nearly exploding," said protest leader Elie Domota. He joined the government in calling for calm, but also blamed France for the situation.

'A land that is crying'
The monthlong strike for lower prices and higher salaries has shuttered stores and schools in Guadeloupe — like Martinique, an integral part of France.

Strikers demand a $250 monthly raise for low-paid workers who now make roughly $1,130 a month.

"I hear a land that is crying, a land that is ablaze and bloody. Victorin Lurel, the president of Guadeloupe's regional council, said on France-Info. "I am still hearing this same lack of responsibility, as if obtaining ??200 were worth bringing the country to its knees."

Authorities said that rioters overnight looted 15 businesses, set fire to another seven and burned 21 cars. Thirteen people were detained. On Wednesday morning, dozens of residents cleared streets and businesses of debris.

Domota said the violence was provoked by police and accused them of yelling racist insults at protesters.

"Thousands and thousands of Guadeloupeans have taken to the streets for a month to alert the state, alert elected officials, alert business owners about the social situation," he said. "It's distressing that every time there are problems on Guadeloupe, there needs to be a death to find solutions."

'He didn't deserve to die'
Bino's partner, Marie-Antoinette Datil, said she was trying to fall asleep when her phone rang before dawn. She thought at first that police were calling to tell her he was arrested.

"I cannot believe he is dead," she said. "Jacques was everything to us. He was an agreeable companion and determined in his convictions ... He didn't deserve to die like that."

About 450,000 people live on Guadeloupe, a verdant hilly island with white-sand beaches. Thousands of tourists have fled or canceled holidays on the normally tranquil island, prompting many hotels to close and cruise ships to head elsewhere.

In Martinique, the strike was temporarily suspended Wednesday morning after two weeks as both sides worked toward an agreement that would lower prices on 100 brands of products by 20 percent.

They also were negotiating requests to lower costs of housing, gasoline, water and electricity. As in Guadeloupe, demands for higher pay went unheeded.

Behind much of the unrest in both islands is resentment by Afro-Caribbeans, many of whom are descendants of slaves, that the vast majority of wealth and land is owned by the offspring of colonists.

More on  Guadeloupe   |  Martinique

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