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‘I am not Father Christmas,’ Macron tells French Guiana sparking backlash from locals & at home

Emmanuel Macron’s visit to French Guiana was marred by clashes between protesters and police, partly sparked by the president’s ‘I am not Father Christmas’ remarks to the impoverished nation.

"I am not Father Christmas because the people of Guiana are not children," France’s president declared as he arrived for a visit to the French territory located in South America. The French leader then repeated his statement on Twitter, adding that he “did not come to Maripasoula [one of the communities in the French Guiana] to make promises of Father Christmas.”

Macron apparently referred to the fact that he was not going to make any grand promises to the nation suffering from high unemployment, crime and a high cost of living. He also ruled out additional state aid for the French overseas territory. "The state has made too many promises which have not been kept," he said, as cited by AFP.

"So I'm here to tell things as I see them, make commitments that I can keep during my term in office and help provide the authority which is essential on this territory,” he added. His words, however, incensed some local residents as his comments, on the first day of his visit to the territory, sparked violent riots.

Angry protesters hurled petrol bombs at police officers who responded with tear gas. The clashes continued for several hours Friday night and ended with five rioters being arrested and two police officers injured.

Local politicians also were outraged by Macron’s remarks. "We don't need Father Christmas, we need a government that realizes that in Guiana nothing works," David Riche, the head of the association of the local mayors told Franceinfo.

Opposition figures back in France also did not pass up the chance to criticize the president for his remarks. French MP, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, called Macron “Father Christmas for the rich” in his Twitter post.

Macron “gives tax gifts to the rich and then dares to go to Guyana to say that he is not Father Christmas,” the politician wrote in another tweet.

It is not the first time that Macron has courted criticism over remarks about Guiana. During his election campaign, he incorrectly referred to the overseas territory as an island, provoking discontent among locals. Macron’s gaffe also left netizens in a tizzy.

French Guiana has for years felt neglected by Paris as it struggles with a high unemployment rate (23 percent), massive illegal immigration and poor public infrastructure. The region was gripped by massive protests, including a general strike, for more than two weeks in spring as locals sought to draw the French government’s attention to their problems.

READ MORE: French Guiana protesters block space launchpad amid multibillion-euro aid row with Paris

The protesters even briefly occupied a space launch pad in Kourou commune, jointly used by the European Space Agency (ESA), the French space agency CNES (National Centre for Space Studies). At the time, the then socialist government attempted to placate the demonstrators by offering €1 billion ($1.06 billion) as part of an emergency funding package. It also promised to invest some €2.1 billion over an unspecified period of time.