PORT LOUIS (Reuters) - Several thousand demonstrators took to the streets in the capital of Mauritius on Saturday in a rare protest against corruption and living standards on the Indian Ocean island.
About 3,000 people, many of them young, marched peacefully through the capital Port Louis to the St Louis Cathedral where the organisers of a Facebook campaign called for a better future for the youth of the popular tourist destination.
Mauritius has long been lauded for its sound economic policies and stable political system, but a row this year between senior politicians over corruption allegations has rocked the ruling coalition and angered many.
“We are fed up with corruption and injustice in this country. This protest is a clear signal to the authorities that things must change for the better,” said a 55-year-old protester called Sylvio, who is self-employed.
Inspired by the Arab Spring uprising and galvanised by the graft scandal that triggered the departure of one party from the government, campaigners launched a Facebook initiative “WANTED: 15,000 Youngsters to Save OUR Future!”
“We are calling for an all encompassing and inclusive economic system which does not leave anybody lagging behind in the gutter,” the group said in its manifesto.
Analysts have said the political uncertainty has hit business sentiment and could jeopardise the economic outlook and ultimately hit growth in a country which markets itself as a bridge between Africa and Asia.
Successive coalition governments have pledged to improve social security in Mauritius, where unemployment is running at just over 8 percent.
“We are only asking for a better future. It is high time that we had political change in this country,” said Mary Jane, a 26-year-old protester.
Former finance minister and Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) leader Pravind Jugnauth left the year-old alliance with the Labour Party in protest at the arrest of the health minister on graft charges last month.
MSM’s departure from the government has left the ruling alliance headed by the Labour Party clinging to a slim majority with 36 seats versus 33.
Damaging allegations about corruption have also appeared in leaked U.S. cables. A cable dated June 2008 on the WikiLeaks site claimed that although Mauritius appeared clean, corruption was “a pervasive and ingrained problem”.
“Don’t take us for granted in this country. Stop playing with our future,” Jameel Peerally, the person behind the Facebook campaign, told the crowds in front of the cathedral.
The protest organisers called on participants to get themselves organised in their respective regions for another demonstration.