9 shot dead in gang violence
Cayenne - Nine people were killed and two others injured in a gang shootout at a gold-panning site in French Guiana, police commander Colonel Didier Laumont told AFP.
The fatal incident happened in the early hours of Saturday at the Dorlin site in the southeast of the French territory in South America.
The shooting left "nine dead and two seriously wounded according to the first reports we have received," said Laumont, noting that two gangs fighting for control of the area opened fire on each other.
"This is a gang which possesses assault rifles, weapons of war," he added.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was visiting over the weekend and the police chief informed him of the shootout during a presentation on Saturday about the territory's illegal gold extraction problem.
Sarkozy promised that the fight against the illegal industry, which also causes serious ecological damage including mercury-polluted waters, would intensify with the "creation of a specific crime," and tougher penalties.
Clandestine gold extraction annually amounts to between five and ten tonnes in Guiana, according to the authorities. This compares to just three million tonnes produced legally.
Sarkozy's weekend visit was his seventh trip to Guiana, perhaps best known as the launch site for Europe's Ariane space rockets, and his third as French president.