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French Guiana: The part of South America facing a total shutdown

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AFP / Getty Images

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Members of the 500 Brothers group at a protest in Cayenne, French Guiana, last week

Discontent over living standards in French Guiana has led to a large-scale blockade on Monday.

The territory has regained control of its space station (more on that later) but anger there is not going away.

Despite being in South America, French Guiana remains part of France and has been paralysed by protests against a lack of investment from the mainland.

Demonstrators, led by a masked group known as the 500 Brothers, have been fighting for $2.5bn (£2bn) in aid.

France has made an offer of £1m, which has been rejected.

French Guiana has been experiencing widespread protests for the past two weeks, following a general strike on 27 March and an occupation of the Guiana Space Station, which delayed a rocket launch.

The 500 Brothers called for a total shutdown on Monday, including road blocks, after a police officer was injured in protests last week.

Where is French Guiana?

French Guiana sits in the north-east corner of South America, north of Brazil, and alongside Guyana and Suriname.

While Guyana and Suriname gained independence from their colonisers (the UK and the Netherlands respectively), French Guiana never has. It is classed as an overseas territory; its currency is the euro and its official language is French, although many also speak Creole.

It is bigger than Belgium, but has a population of about 250,000 people (compared with Belgium’s 11 million).

Its tough environment – including scorching heat and sharks – was made famous in the 1969 book Papillon, which later became a film staring Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.

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Getty Images

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The view from the Devil’s Island jail, which made French Guiana famous during the 19th Century and featured in the book Papillon

What are people upset about?

Protesters have a catalogue of issues they want France to urgently address, from education and health needs, to rising violent crime.

“The State does not respect its commitments, the State does not respect French Guiana,” Olivier Goudet, a spokesman for the 500 Brothers told France’s RFI network on Sunday. “We need to mobilise in order to raise awareness and remind the State of its responsibilities.”

The issue has even been raised during the French presidential election campaign – although leading candidate Emmanuel Macron wrongly referred to the territory as an island when discussing the crisis.

How are rockets involved?

French Guiana is largely covered in Amazon rainforest, with its development centred on a handful of towns hugging the coastline.

One of these towns – Kourou – is home to the Guiana Space Station, which is used by the European Space Agency and the French government to launch satellites into space.

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EPA

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The Ariane 5 rocket during a previous launch in Kourou

Protesters say money is poured into the station, while the people’s welfare is neglected.

They are calling for action under the slogan Pou Lagwiyann Dekole, which is Creole for “Let Guiana take off”.

Last month, the hooded 500 Brothers group took over the space station and delayed a satellite launch.

They relinquished their occupation last week, but continue to protest.

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AFP/Getty Images

Image caption

A protester speaking to space centre director Didier Faivre (C) last week


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