New Caledonia: France declares a state of emergency in New Caledonia, 500 po...

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Published Time: 16.05.2024 - 09:16:02 Modified Time: 16.05.2024 - 09:16:02

Rioters torched vehicles and es and looted stores, prompting extra police to be sent from France to support the 1,800 already there. New Caledonia, new caledonia news, new caledonia riots

France has declared a state of emergency in the Pacific territory of New Caledonia after four , including a police officer, were killed in riots over voting reform in the French-ruled archipelago.

The state of emergency will last 12 days and give authorities additional powers to ban gatherings and forbid from moving around.

Rioters torched vehicles and es and looted stores, prompting extra police to be sent from France to support the 1,800 already there.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said the territory had been "hit by violence of a rare intensity".

"No violence will be tolerated," he said, adding the state of emergency "will allow us to roll out massive means to restore order".

He told the French parliament in Paris that the state of emergency would aim "to restore order in the shortest time possible".

Authorities have also banned video app TikTok, which the government has previously said helped rioters organise and escalate unrest.

TikTok could not immediately be reached for comment.

Schools have been shut and there is already a curfew in the capital Noumea between 6pm and 6am.

The La Tontouta International Airport remains closed, and flights have been cancelled until at least May 17.

Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesman for New Caledonia's President Louis Mapou said three young Indigenous Kanak had died in the riots.

The French government later announced that a police official had died from a gunshot wound.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced the death on X and expressed his condolences to the 24-year-old's family.

"He took off his helmet (to speak to residents) and he was shot right in the head," Mr Darmanin said later on Wednesday.

More than 140 have been arrested and more than 300 have been injured since Monday.

On Thursday morning, at least four alleged instigators were under house arrest, according to the news agency.

Masked rioters were seen roaming the streets on Wednesday with weapons including golf clubs and rocks, as they set up makeshift roadblocks.

Locals reported police being outnumbered by protesters, with cars and buildings burning across Noumea.

Rioting broke out over a new bill, adopted by politicians in Paris on Tuesday, that will allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections — a move some local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.

Electoral reform is the latest flashpoint in a decades-long tussle over France's role in the mineral-rich islands, which lie in the south-west Pacific, between Australia and Fiji.

France annexed the island in 1853 and gave the colony the status of overseas territory in 1946.

It has long been rocked by pro-independence movements.

A 1998 Noumea Accord helped end the conflict by outlining a path to gradual autonomy and restricting voting to the Indigenous Kanak and migrants living in New Caledonia before 1998.

Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai and current chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group issued a statement yesterday to express support for the major pro-independence political group, Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS).

"There's an urgent need now for France to agree to the proposal by the FLNKS to establish a dialogue and mediation mission to be led by a mutually agreed high personality, to discuss a way forward so that normalcy can be restored quickly and an enduring peace can prevail," the statement said.

He added that "these events could have been avoided if the French Government had listened".

"There is a need for the French Government to return to the spirit of the Noumea Accord in its dealings relating to New Caledonia.

"That spirit ensured respect and cooperation between all parties and ensured peace in New Caledonia."

The latest unrest prompted calls for calm from French President Emmanuel Macron and New Caledonia's President Louis Mapou.

Mr Macron offered to hold meetings with pro- and anti-independence parties before the bill was officially brought into force — an offer accepted by FLNKS.

The French government has said the change in voting rules was needed so elections would be democratic.

New Caledonia is the world's third-largest nickel miner and residents have been hit by a crisis in the sector, with one in five living under the poverty threshold.

Thirty-year-old Henri, who works in a hotel in Noumea, said "politicians have a huge share of responsibility".

"Loyalist politicians, who are descendants of colonialists, say colonisation is over, but Kanak politicians don't agree. There are huge economic disparities," he said.

Henri, who declined to give his full name, said there was significant looting amid the riots, with the situation most dangerous at night. 

Nic Maclellan, a journalist and researcher in the Pacific islands, said "enormous disparities of wealth and power" was one feature of the current crisis. 

"Thousands of are living in squatter settlements in New Caledonia.

"You see that [is reflected] with young out on the streets, torching Porsche cars and things like that." 

Another fueller of the conflict was the lack of recognition of France as a colonial power, Mr Maclellan added. 

"Australian leaders often talk France as a Pacific nation. 

"Yet its neighbours from the Melanesian Spearhead Group and Pacific Island Forum often describe New Caledonia as a non self-governing territory — basically a French colony.

"France is a European colonial power, not a Pacific nation. The question of decolonisation needs to be addressed.

"That's the key demand from Kanak , who don't want to be lectured democratic rights when they are living under colonial administration." 

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia wants to see a resolution to the political tensions that have stoked the riots.

"I take the opportunity to repeat Australia's call for calm.

"We respect and support the referendum process underway under the accord. We encourage all parties to work together constructively to shape New Caledonia's institutional future."

New Zealand's Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who earlier this week cancelled a trip to New Caledonia due to the unrest, called for all sides to de-escalate tensions and hold "constructive dialogue".

"No matter your views on the political arrangements in New Caledonia, everyone should agree that violence is harmful to every community there," he said.

"New Zealand, as a neighbour of New Caledonia and fellow member of the Pacific Islands Forum, has a strong interest in the peaceful resolution of the situation there."

Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said the events in New Caledonia were "deeply concerning to the Pacific family".

He said the PIF was ready to facilitate and provide a "supported and neutral space" for discussions, "to find an agreed way forward that safeguards the interests of the of New Caledonia".

We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander s as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.

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