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Strikes to Hit French Guiana as Tensions Paralyze Territory

Trucks form a blockade in Cayenne on March 26, 2017, with a banner reading "Hollande (refering to French president Francois Hollande), where is your deal on the future ? No roads, no development".

French Guiana is facing a nationwide strike Monday over crime and economic difficulties, amid protests that have paralyzed the French territory in South America, halted flights and a rocket launch and prompted a U.S. travel warning.

The French government sent an emergency mission to try to quell tensions before Monday's general strike by some 27 unions, expected to hit public services across Guiana.

Protesters are angry over high crime, the cost of living and the quality of health care and other social services. Their protests have already blocked roads to neighboring Brazil and Suriname, and shuttered many businesses and schools.

The unrest is a reminder of the deep economic, social and racial divides between France's mainland and former colonies from the Caribbean to the South Pacific that remain French today. Some territories use the euro currency, and they all depend heavily on imported goods and policy decisions made in Paris.

Candidates for France's two-round presidential election starting next month have urged aid or intervention in Guiana, as the concerns of overseas voters suddenly entered the spotlight in the race after having been largely ignored.

The Collective of 500 Brothers, the group largely behind the unrest, is demanding that the French government send a minister to negotiate with them.

The government minister for overseas holdings called for calm Monday, and said on RTL radio that the government mission has made progress on demands from fishermen and farmers. However, she said ``conditions for dialogue are not met'' for her to visit Guiana herself as the demonstrators demand.

A visit of 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.

Protests disrupted the planned launch last week of an Ariane 5 rocket from the space center in Kourou, carrying a South Korean satellite and a Brazilian satellite.

Air France cancelled all flights Sunday and Monday because of the strike. Flights from regional airlines to Cayenne on Friday were canceled.

The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning because of the potential for the protests to turn violent. It said the U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname, is able to provide only very limited consular services in French Guiana and said citizens should avoid travel to French Guiana.