Unrest racks French Pacific territory of New Caledonia

29 days ago

French riot police at the entrance of the Vallee-du-Tir district, in Noumea. [Theo Rouby/AFP]

Authorities in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia have announced a two-day curfew and banned gatherings following violent unrest.

New Caledonia - Figure 1
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The French authorities imposed the curfew in the capital, Noumea, and other areas, closed New Caledonia’s international airport, and sent for police reinforcements after protests by independence campaigners over changes to the territory’s voting system turned to unrest.

New Caledonia’s government called for calm, reporting that 54 members of the security forces had been injured and 82 people had been arrested. No serious civilian injuries were reported.

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The authorities also condemned the destruction of property, saying 50 local businesses and about 200 vehicles had been burned.

The violence flared overnight on Monday as French lawmakers in Paris debated voting law changes which would increase the number of people who could cast ballots in New Caledonia. A final vote was scheduled for later on Tuesday.

The proposed changes would allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections – a move local leaders fear will dilute the vote of Indigenous Kanak.

New Caledonia - Figure 3
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One of five island territories spanning the Asia Pacific held by France, New Caledonia is rich in natural resources and is the centrepiece of French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to increase Paris’s influence in the region.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on X that the proposed new election rules were “a moral duty for those who believe in democracy” but should not stand in the way of attempts to reach a larger political agreement.

Darmanin, whose portfolio includes France’s overseas territories, was tasked by Macron to seal a deal with Kanak leaders on the future status of New Caledonia after decades of political tension.

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Macron’s office at the weekend said the president would invite representatives of the territory’s population to Paris for talks to reach a peaceful settlement.

All gatherings have been banned in the Greater Noumea area, and a liquor ban has been put in place while the international airport in Noumea has been closed and all commercial flights cancelled.

New Caledonia is about 19,300km (12,000 miles) from France, with a population of 270,000, including 41 percent Melanesian and 24 percent of European origin, mostly French.

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

New Caledonia's government called for calm and condemned the destruction of property. [Theo Rouby/AFP]

Authorities announced a curfew on Tuesday and a ban on public gatherings. [Mathurin Derel/AFP]

A total of 82 people were arrested, and 54 police officers were injured, according to authorities. [Theo Rouby/AFP]

New Caledonia - Figure 6
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A pedestrian looks at burned cars at a car dealership in the Belle-Vie district in Noumea. [Theo Rouby/AFP]

At least two car dealerships and a bottling factory in Noumea were set on fire during the protests. [Theo Rouby/AFP]

The violence flared overnight on Monday as lawmakers in Paris debated voting law changes which would increase the number of people who could cast ballots in New Caledonia. A final vote was scheduled for later on Tuesday. [Theo Rouby/AFP]

New Caledonia - Figure 7
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All travel on public roads and in public places in the municipalities of Noumea, Dumbea, Mont-Dore and Paita has been banned from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning, except for health and public emergencies. [Theo Rouby/AFP]
New Caledonia - Figure 8
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