Travel warning as protests sweep through French Guiana
Massive protests have spread through French Guiana, blocking roads to neighbouring Brazil and Suriname and prompting the US government to issue a travel warning for the French territory in South America.
Hundreds have taken part in protests over high crime, the cost of living and anger at the quality of social services such as health care.
The Collective of 500 Brothers, the group largely behind the unrest, is demanding that the French government send a minister to negotiate with them, according to spokesman Ken Saint-Luce.
"We, citizens of French Guiana, are tired of living our lives like this. Life over here has become very difficult," Mr Saint-Luce said told Surinamese radio station Apintie.
"We had been talking to the local government for weeks, but that did not lead to anything concrete."
The demonstrations have paralysed French Guiana in recent days as protesters blocked roads and many businesses and schools have closed.
A visit by Segolene Royal, the French minister of ecology, to the territory on March 17 was cut short after masked demonstrators from the collective stormed into a regional conference on biodiversity she was attending in the department's capital city of Cayenne.
Demonstrators surrounded the consulates of Suriname, Haiti and Guyana in Cayenne the same day, demanding that the government return all prisoners from these nations to their native countries immediately.
The planned launch on Tuesday of an Ariane 5 rocket from the space center in Kourou, carrying a South Korean satellite and a Brazilian satellite, had to be postponed indefinitely and an Air France flight to Cayenne was diverted back to Paris on Thursday, four hours into its journey.
Passengers on board were told the flight was returning because of the social unrest in French Guiana. Flights from regional airlines to Cayenne on Friday were cancelled.
The US State Department issued a travel warning because of the potential for the protests to turn violent.
It said the US embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname, was able to provide only very limited consular services in French Guiana and citizens should avoid travelling there.