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Riots spread across French island of Réunion on third night of violence

AFP/Richard Bouhet

Riots spread to half of the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion on Thursday night. Four people have been jailed in a third night of violence sparked by protests against oil price rises and the cost of living.

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Violence, usually started by groups of 50-100 youths, spread to the east and south of the island on Thursday night, despite an appeal for calm by the département's top official, Prefect Michel Lalande.

But, although shops and public buildings were attacked on Wednesday night, only dustbins and cars were set alight on the third night of riots.

Nine police officers were injured, according to the authorities, and 76 people have now been arrested.

Four of them have been sentenced to between six months and three years, according to the Métro freesheet.

Round-table negotiations, involving unions, small business and consumers’ groups, government representatives and petrol companies were scheduled for Friday.

They broke down a week ago because the petrol companies were not invited, leading lorry owners to picket the island’s only oil terminal in support of their demand for a 25 centimes cut in petrol and diesel prices.

The demand for cheap petrol was the “trigger” for protests against the cost of living, Jean-Hugues Ratenton, an anti-poverty campaign led by the Communist Party, told the Paris daily Le Monde reports.

Réunion is a French overseas département, with the same administrative status as a département in mainland France.

  • Its population is 833,000;
  • Unemployment is 29.5 per cent;
  • Poverty affects 52 per cent of the population;
  • Public servants receive a bonus of 35-53 per cent for working in Réunion;
  • GDP is 18,250 euros per head per year (compared to 30,401 euros in mainland France).

Protests in 2009 also erupted into violence and led President Nicolas Sarkozy's government to introduce a bonus for those in employment? That has not satisfied much of the population who say they suffer from economic neglect and racial discrimination.

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