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Paris refuses demand for 'unrealistic' 2.5 billion euro French Guiana aid package

PARIS (Reuters) - France will not give in to demands for an “unrealistic” 2.5 billion euro ($2.7 billion) aid package for French Guiana, which has been swept by social unrest, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Monday.

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After the French territory in South America was disrupted by protests and a general strike, Paris sent two ministers last week for talks with a coalition representing the demonstrators.

The protests, which pose a challenge to the government in Paris three weeks before a presidential election, began with demands for tougher measures against crime, but also reflect a deeper malaise in the territory which suffers from high unemployment.

The government offered a 1 billion euro aid plan but the protest movement demanded an emergency 2.5 billion euro plan in talks over the weekend.

After a ministerial meeting in Paris to review the situation, Cazeneuve said it would be easy for the government to “take the easy way out and promise an unrealistic amount of financial aid” before handing over responsibility to the next government.

“That is not the idea that we have of responsibility,” he told reporters.

Cazeneueve called for negotiations to continue, saying 11 agreements had been reached in areas such as security and justice, fishing, transport, mining, agriculture and energy.

Union leader Davy Rimane, a spokesman for the protesters, told RTL radio that the movement would meet to decide its next steps.

“The prime minister’s statement has in no way blunted our determination for Guiana to get out of this stagnation,” he said. “We can’t go on like this ... We are heading for a social catastrophe.”

“That is why we say to the government: We must launch an emergency plan for this sum of 2.5 billion euros,” he said.

The U.S. State Department warned American citizens last month to avoid travel to French Guiana due to widespread protests it said had the potential to become violent in the main cities of Kourou and Cayenne.

Labor protests in the overseas French department bordering Brazil and Suriname have also caused the indefinite postponement of the planned launch of an Ariane 5 rocket carrying communications satellites for Brazil and South Korea.

Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Marine Pennetier, Jean-Baptiste Vey and Adrian Croft; Editing by John Irish and Hugh Lawson