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Discontent in France's Caribbean paradise

CHRISTINE Pochot buys croissants in her corner bakery, votes in French elections and is as French as her president ?? but lives a hemisphere away from his Parisian palace, on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

The island's primary schools use the same textbooks, the currency is the euro and city halls are engraved with "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite."

But lately weeks of strikes and outbursts of rioting on Guadeloupe and nearby Martinique have disrupted the Caribbean calm.

The world economic crisis is pushing up prices of staples that already cost more than on the French mainland, and reviving the resentment of the mixed-race majority toward the descendants of slave-owners and white colonists who still run much of the islands' economies.

For French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Caribbean unrest is a big challenge.

France is used to strikes and ethnic unrest on its European mainland, but torched cars and trashed stores on its far-flung islands are stoking worries of contagion to other overseas holdings or even to disenfranchised housing projects on the mainland that saw similar destruction in 2005.

It raises uncomfortable questions about race, France's efforts to define itself in the 21st century and the legacy of France's once mighty empire that today stretches across the globe from the North Atlantic and Caribbean to the South Pacific.

"We need a new conversation with the mainland," Pochot said.

In Guadeloupe's main city, Pointe-a-Pitre, Judith Leborgne agreed, saying the 400,000 islanders should have more control over their economy. "We could tend better to our own affairs. They said they were going to send a negotiator to tell us what is good for us. But they aren't the ones who should tell us what we need," she said.

Both women are Creole. Neither is clamoring for independence. Like most of Guadeloupe's protesters, they want Paris to pay them more heed, offer them real equality and a bigger chunk of the resources of one of the world's richest countries.


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