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Further clashes in French Caribbean over anti-Covid measures

Protesters in French overseas territories in the Caribbean opposing measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 clashed again with security forces on Tuesday as the Paris government vowed to restore order.

Burning cars and roadblocks in Guadeloupe.
Burning cars and roadblocks in Guadeloupe. Photo: Christophe Archambault/AFP

Security forces and firefighters came under fire in Martinique where a general strike got underway on Monday, a week after a similar shutdown began in Guadeloupe, police said. There were no casualties.

Petrol bombs were meanwhile hurled at police in Basse-Terre, the main city in Guadeloupe where some 90 people have been arrested in recent days, prosecutors said.

Barricades made of taxis or tyres have now also been set up on main highways in Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Anger over Covid measures including compulsory vaccination for healthworkers has fanned longstanding grievances in the French overseas territories, which are popular with moneyed tourists but where poverty levels are far higher than in mainland France.

As a result residents have long felt marginalised by the central government.

Barricades made of burnt cars at Montebello roundabout in Petit-Bourg, Guadeloupe. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Vaccination rates in the territories trail those on the mainland with less than half the population jabbed against Covid on Guadeloupe, compared to nearly 80 percent of the entire population in mainland France.

“The situation is still very difficult” in Guadeloupe after over a week of unrest, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told France Inter radio.

“What is clear is that restoring public order is the precondition for any talks.”

A meeting on Monday chaired by Prime Minister Jean Castex failed to dampen anger in Guadeloupe.

“Of course we continue the mobilisation. We did not expect much from Castex and the Macron government, so we are not disappointed,” said Hilaire Luce, a demonstrator manning a barricade near Le Gosier on Guadeloupe, accusing the government of showing “contempt”.

Macron on Monday said that the crisis was “explosive” but vowed that the government would “not give in to lies, distorting of information and the exploitation by some people of this situation”.

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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