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State of emergency declared in France’s New Caledonia as riots rage

In World
May 15, 2024

France has imposed a state of emergency in New Caledonia as the South Pacific overseas territory is rocked by violent unrest, the office of President Emmanuel Macron announced in Paris following a crisis meeting on Wednesday.

Declaring a state of emergency makes it easier for the authorities to impose curfews and ban demonstrations, among other actions.

At least three people have died in the riots that raged after France’s National Assembly approved contentious voting reforms to the territory that angered independence supporters.

Several hundred people have been injured.

Macron expressed his shock at the deaths and the serious injuries suffered by a police officer, the presidential office said. The acts of violence were intolerable and the state would crack down to restore order, it added.

French media, citing New Caledonia High Commissioner Louis Le Franc, gave the death toll on Wednesday.

Earlier, the French High Commission said more than 130 had been arrested after a second night of protests, looting and vandalism.

The riots began on Monday as France debated a bill which would give thousands of French citizens in the archipelago in the South Pacific the right to vote in provincial polls.

New Caledonia’s pro-independence movement fears that the change will result in a weakening of political influence among the Indigenous Kanak people.

The National Assembly in Paris adopted the reform overnight, by 351 votes to 153.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on RTL television that one of the deaths were caused by a bullet, but that it had not been fired by a police officer. The exact circumstances would have to be clarified, he said. There was initially no information on the other deaths.

“There must be no violence in a democracy. There must be absolute calm,” Darmanin declared. He said there had been attacks on police stations with axes and heavy ammunition.

About 60 police officers had been injured in the riots, the High Commission said on Wednesday.

Numerous buildings had been set alight, including schools. A planned escape at the prison in the capital Nouméa had been thwarted, it added.

An overnight curfew is in place and people are asked to limit their movements during the day, the commission said. There is also a ban on gatherings, selling alcohol and carrying weapons. The airport has been closed.

For Paris, New Caledonia is important geopolitically, both militarily and because of its nickel deposits.

The territory, with about 270,000 residents, has gained extensive autonomy through the Nouméa Agreement. The island is located some 1,200 kilometres east of Australia.

Residents voted to remain part of France in each of the three referendums on independence held in 2018, 2020 and 2021.

However, the independence movement boycotted the last vote and announced that it would not accept the result.

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