French authorities today (November 24) said they were taking control of some fuel stations on the Caribbean island territory of Martinique due to concerns about fuel supplies following days of protests against measures to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Residents angry over the management of the pandemic, and specifically over vaccination requirements for health workers, have in recent days set up burning barricades and in some cases exchanged gunfire with police.
The vaccine mandate also applies in mainland France, but has touched a nerve among the majority Black population in Martinique and the neighbouring island of Guadaloupe. Some have called the mandate a throwback to the slavery era, insisting they should be allowed to make their own choices about health treatment.
The Martinique prefect said in a statement that it was taking over seven fuel stations to ensure supply for emergency workers such as fire fighters and ambulances “due to supply risks at gas stations”.
Protesters in recent days have set up barricades that in some cases include burning cars. Local authorities cleared away some of the debris, according to a Reuters witness, after a union leader called for the barricades to be lifted due to violence.
Serge Letchimy and Lucien Saliber of the Martinique Territorial Collective, or CTM, an administrative body that runs the island, called for calm and condemned violence that had taken place near barricades.
“We must call on everyone to be calm,” the CTM wrote on its Twitter account.
Earlier France’s BFM TV, citing police, said gunshots had been fired overnight for a second night running.
Alexane Ozier-Lafontaine, 21, a Martinique teacher who has joined in protests, said people were angry about issues including the vaccine mandate and the cancellation of a local holiday. She also said tourists faced fewer restrictions on their movements than locals.
“People are very angry about that,” said Ozier-Lafontaine in a telephone interview on Wednesday, adding she heard gunshots on Tuesday night.
Protesters have also cited anger over the use of a chemical pesticide called chlordecone in Guadeloupe and Martinique banana plantations that has been linked to unusually high rates of prostate cancer on both islands.
Agriculture workers were for decades exposed to chlordecone, a situation French President Emmanuel Macron has called an “environmental scandal,” according to French media.