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Macron talks tough in impoverished French Guiana
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday promised that the previous government's promises to the impoverished territory of Guiana will be kept, after angering some local representatives with a declaration that "I am not Father Christmas" when he touched down there the day before.
There were several hours of clashes between police and demonstrators on Thursday night, with five people arrested and two police officers suffering minor injuries.
The 1,000-strong protest was called by two campaign groups, Pou Lagwiyann dekole (Let Guiana Take Off) and 500 Frères (500 brothers), which led protests during this year's presidential election calling for more resources for the 83,000m² territory.
Back then the outgoing Socialist government agreed to an emergency package of one billion euros and gave a commitment in principle that the state would pay another 2.1 billion euros over an unspecified time frame.
Not Father Christmas
Macron sent out a negative message on arrival, declaring "I am not Father Christmas because the Guianese are not children."
On Friday he told a press conference that the "state's word will be kept" and that the first parts of the agreement would be honoured, promising to speed up the strengthening of the local police force to tackle a murder rate 10 times as high as that of mainland France, as well as tackling undocumented immigration and illegal gold panning.
But he only promised that the pledge of 2.1 billion euros would be examined, adding that "the role of the state is not to keep unrealistic commitments and not to give into pressure of any sort, in particular when it does not have the democratic legitimacy that is vested in elected representatives".
One of those representatives, David Riché reacted angrily to Macron's first statement on French radio.
"We don't need Father Christmas, we need a government that realises that nothing is working in Guiana," said Riché, who heads the local mayors' association.
He went on to express doubts that the whole of the 2.1 billion euros will be paid.
Local people want action to tackle poverty, 23 percent unemployment, poor education and health facilities and poor infrastructure.
Poverty beside space centre
Many towns lack electricity and running water in a territory that houses the Kourou Space Centre, from which European rockets are often launched.
Macron, who was to visit the centre along with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday, stressed that the government is investing 50 million euros a year in education over the next five years.
Further demonstrations were planned for Friday morning.