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French president convenes top ministers to discuss spiraling violence in territory of New Caledonia

In World
May 15, 2024

PARIS (AP) — At least two people were killed and three were seriously injured overnight in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, French media reported Wednesday, as President Emmanuel Macron convened a meeting of top ministers to discuss the spiraling violence.

It was the third day of violent unrest over a constitutional reform pushed by Paris that has roiled the archipelago, which has long sought independence.

The special defense and security council meeting called by Macron on Wednesday typically brings together a limited group of officials, including Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and the ministers for defense, interior, economy and foreign affairs.

On Tuesday, the French Interior Ministry sent police reinforcements to New Caledonia, which long served as a prison colony and now hosts a French military base. Four mobile gendarmerie squadrons are being deployed as reinforcements, including 15 gendarmes from an elite intervention unit.

French broadcaster BFM reported that two people had been killed and three gravely injured in the unrest overnight.

French authorities in the territory said more than 130 people have been arrested since Monday in the violence that has raged across the archipelago, with decades of tensions between indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonizers who want to remain part of France.

Clashes between police and protesters have continued in and around the capital, Nouméa, despite a curfew and ban on gatherings.

Schools have been closed “until further notice” and the main airport, La Tontoura, “remains closed to commercial flights.”

The territory’s top French official, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc, warned that if calm is not restored, there will be “many deaths” in the Nouméa metropolitan area, where protests over the voting rights turned violent on Tuesday.

“The situation is not serious, it is very serious,” Le Franc said. “We have entered a dangerous spiral, a deadly spiral.”

The unrest started on Monday with a protest over France’s efforts to expand voter lists that would benefit pro-France politicians on New Caledonia and further marginalize the indigenous Kanak people, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

Early Wednesday, France’s National Assembly adopted a constitutional revision reforming the electoral body in the territory, with 351 lawmakers voting for and 153 against the bill.

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