Guadeloupe protesters seize legislature in standoff with Paris

Protesters in Guadeloupe on Friday occupied the local legislature in the French Caribbean overseas territory, in a new flare-up of a standoff with Paris sparked by Covid rules.

This grab taken from AFP TV footage on December 24th, 2021 shows Elie Domota (back, R), union leader and spokesman of Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (or LKP), Maite Hubert M'toumo (C), leader of the UGTG
This grab taken from AFP TV footage on December 24th, 2021 shows Elie Domota (back, R), union leader and spokesman of Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon (or LKP), Maite Hubert M'toumo (C), leader of the UGTG, and protestors breaking into the Regional Council in Basse-Terre, on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, at the end of a plenary session on December 23rd.  Benedicte JOURDIER / AFP

There have been tensions in Guadeloupe and the neighbouring island French territory of Martinique during the last weeks over rules including obligatory Covid vaccinations for healthworkers that have fed into long-standing local grievances.

Protesters first entered the debating chamber of the regional council while it was meeting on Thursday with several staying the night and deciding to continue their action into Friday. Councillors were able to leave peacefully.

They want to negotiate with Paris over the crisis, but officials have so far indicated that there can be no talks as long as such actions are carried out. The protesters notably want all sanctions halted against healthworkers who have refused the Covid jab.

With Christmas looming the protesters began to leave the chamber at 1:00 pm (1700 GMT) but would meet again Monday to prepare a new action next week, Elie Domota, a union leader and chief of the LKP association told AFP.

“We’re here and as long as we don’t have a commitment, because we have nothing at all, we have absolutely nothing, so as long as we don’t have a firm commitment, an urgent meeting, we’ll stay here,” said Maite Hubert M’toumo, general secretary of the general union of Guadeloupean workers, said earlier in the legislature.

Raphael Cece, of the newspaper Rebelle, added: “We are not against the vaccine, but we are fighting against this injustice, the sanctions, the mandatory vaccines for healthworkers.”

France’s Overseas Territories Minister Sebastien Lecornu lashed out at their action, tweeting: “No demand justifies hindering the smooth running of an assembly of elected officials in the middle of a plenary session.”

Covid vaccination rates in France’s Caribbean territories are far lower than those in mainland France, and there are concerns that the new wave created by the fast-spreading Omicron variant could spark serious problems.

READ ALSO: France fears over 100,000 daily Covid cases by the end of the year

The crisis brought the island to a standstill last month when protesters set up barricades around major roads.

Healthworkers who did not want to be vaccinated will be suspended from December 31st but can be helped to transition into other work.

France’s Caribbean territories, remnants of the colonial era, are seen as luxury holiday destinations by people in mainland France. But residents there believe they have long suffered from neglect by Paris, which has resulted in living standards well below the French average.

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French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

After the seismic decision of the US Supreme Court on Friday, French MPs are calling for the right to abortion in France to be protected by the constitution.

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

Lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party are to propose a parliamentary bill on Saturday that would enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution. 

The move comes after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 “Roe v. Wade” decision on Friday.

“In France we guarantee and advance the rights of women. We protect them,” said Aurore Bergé – the head of Renaissance in the Assemblée nationale and one of the key sponsors of the bill. 

Another co-sponsor, Marie-Pierre Rixain tweeted: “What happens in elsewhere cannot happen in France. We must protect the right to abortion for future generations. 

In 2018 and 2019, Emmanuel Macron’s party – which back then was known as La République en Marche – refused to back bills proposed by left-wing party, La France Insoumise, to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution. 

In a Saturday interview with France Inter, Bergé suggested that the success of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National during parliamentary elections earlier this month had created a sense of newfound urgency. 

She described the far-right MPs as “fierce opponents of women’s access to abortion” and said it was important “to take no risk” in securing it. 

READ MORE France’s Macron condemns US abortion ruling

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has come out in support of the bill. 

The left-wing opposition block, NUPES, also backs it and had planned to propose an identical piece legislation of its own on Monday. 

Macron is seeking parliamentary allies to pass reforms after his formation lost its majority in legislative elections earlier this month.

The legal timeframe to terminate a pregnancy in France was extended from 12 to 14 weeks in the last legislature.

Changing the constitution requires the National Assembly and Senate to adopt the same text, then a three-fifths majority of parliament sitting in congress. The other option is a referendum.