Three nights of riots in Reunion Island: Why "the Cauldron" is boiling over
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For three nights in a row, Reunion Island, a French island in the Indian Ocean, has been wracked by violent riots over high costs of living. The neighbourhood of Chaudron – literally “the Cauldron” – in the French overseas department’s capital has been the epicentre of clashes between rioters and police. Our Observer explains why social unrest has flared time and time again in this neighbourhood.
The charred remains of a car in the "Cauldron" neighbourhood on Wednesday.
For three nights in a row, Reunion Island, a French island in the Indian Ocean, has been wracked by violent riots over the high cost of living. The neighbourhood of Chaudron – literally “the Cauldron” – in the French overseas department’s capital has been the epicentre of clashes between rioters and police. Our Observer explains why social unrest has flared time and time again in this neighbourhood.
The violence began Tuesday when truckers protesting against the high cost of gas were joined by many more protesters, angry over the high cost of living in general. As the evening went on, this demonstration turned into a riot. Over the next three nights, Saint Denis’ Cauldron neighbourhood saw bitter clashes between rioters and police, whose ranks have grown day by day as reinforcements arrive from mainland France.
On Thursday night, the clashes were slightly less violent than previous nights in the capital, but riots had spread to other cities around the island. The police reported that nine policemen were injured; one of them was hit in the face by a Molotov cocktail in the eastern city of Saint Benoit.
To calm tensions, local legislators have proposed emergency measures to bring down gas prices by 0,05 euros. They are to discuss this proposal on Friday.
The "Cauldron" neighbourhood on Wednesday, after a first night of riots. Video filmed by our Observer.
"Riots are cyclical here; it's as if people had to blow their tops once in a while for tensions to come down again"
Stéphane Bommert is a nurse. On the side, he works as a photographer for the police. He has lived on Reunion Island for ten years.
For two decades now, the Cauldron neighbourhood has become the symbol of revolt in Saint Denis. The first riots broke out there in 1991, when the TV channel Télé Freedom (LINK) was shut down [Editor’s Note: This popular channel had been broadcast illegally since 1986; in 1991, the state decided to shut it down. Its founder, Camille Sudre, was taken to court; this set off violent riots]. However, it’s not at all a ghetto, as some might imagine. During the day, it’s a very pleasant neighbourhood, with a nice street market. There are plenty of stores, where families come to shop. But at night, everything changes and riots break out.
There are geographical reasons contributing to the Cauldron’s tendency to host riots: the police usually try to quell protests in the city centre by pushing protesters out toward the periphery. However, they can’t push them west because there’s the mountain and the sea, so they push them east, toward the Cauldron.
"Youth unemployment is very high on the island ... so it takes very little to push young
people over the edge"
The riots in the Cauldron these past few days started with a truckers’ protest against gas prices, which snowballed into a protest against the high cost of living on Reunion Island. This then quickly degenerated into riots, led by young people who joined the crowd. There’s a strong sense of dissatisfaction among the young. Youth unemployment is very high on the island, and it’s even worse in the Cauldron [Editor’s Note: The latest figures for Reunion Island put youth unemployment at 60% for those under 25]. So it takes very little to push them over the edge. Riots are cyclical here; the last ones took place in 2009. It’s as if people had to blow their tops once in a while for the tension to come down again.
"With elections coming up, this is the young people’s chance to voice their grievances"
On Tuesday night, I witnessed protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police. Eighty extra police officers were flown in from mainland France to Reunion Island Thursday, and more should arrive Friday. However I don’t think the situation will calm down right away. With elections coming up, this is the young people’s chance to voice their grievances. Right now, politicians are only thinking about winning seats in parliament and simply aren’t preoccupied with the situation here on the island. That’s why they seem to go into hiding when riots break out. On Thursday, Saint Denis’ mayor visited the Cauldron and was yelled at by local residents. He was embarrassed and didn’t know what to tell them.”
Photos of police deployed during the riots
All photos were taken and sent to us by our Observer © Stéphane Bommert.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.