Kourou: Around 30 protest leaders in French Guiana attempted to occupy a rocket-launching space centre on Tuesday, escalating demonstrations that have crippled the territory in South America for 10 days.

Workers have launched protests and strikes demanding pay raises and improved public safety, creating a fresh crisis in the last few weeks of outgoing President Francois Hollande’s unpopular term in office.

Labour leaders rejected a government offer of a billion-dollar aid package on Monday and are demanding 2.5 billion euros ($2.67 billion) instead for a “Marshall Plan” to develop the often overlooked overseas territory.

After visiting the world-renowned French space centre in Kourou on Tuesday to meet its director, about 30 leaders said they would not leave until the government met their demands.

“We won’t move. The situation is stuck and Guiana is blocked. You are blocked. We want the billions we have asked for,” protest leader Manuel Jean-Baptiste told the director of the space centre.

The Kourou centre has become a symbol of economic disparity in Guiana, a heavily forested landmass wedged between Suriname and Brazil on the northeastern shoulder of Latin America.

On March 20, angry residents blocked the planned launch of a rocket that was to place into orbit satellites for Brazilian and South Korean operators, in one of the first signs of public anger there.

Rundown homes and potholed streets ring the Kourou centre — and these are for the relatively lucky few in a territory where many of the 250,000-strong population live without electricity or running water.

“Kourou is a political, technological and financial success. It is the flagship of European technology,” Youri Antoinette, an engineer at the space centre and spokesman for the residents of Kourou, told AFP.

“But once you leave the space centre, you’re in an under-developed country.” The unemployment rate in Guiana is 23 percent, and nearly twice this for 18-25-year-olds, while per capita income is about half of the rate in mainland France.

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By Expat