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In the Aftermath of Deadly Riots, France Imposes State of Emergency in New Caledonia

by Rahil M
0 comment

The last time France took such an action for the Pacific archipelago was in January 1985

Following a second night of unrest over changes to voting rights in overseas territory, that has led to the deaths of at least four individuals, France has said it will enforce a state of emergency in New Caledonia for no less than 12 days.

According to the French High Commission, more than 130 individuals have been arrested and more than 300 injured.

Prisca Thevenot, a government representative, announced the decision after a cabinet meeting, saying it would try to reduce tensions after the “scenes of chaos.”

Authorities, under the emergency measures, will have more prominent abilities to handle the turmoil, including the possibility of house confinement for individuals considered a danger to public order.

The last time France took such an action for the Pacific archipelago was in January 1985, during a pinnacle of recurring conflicts between the French authorities and a pro-independence movement that lasted through the 1980s.

Late Wednesday, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told his cabinet that the military had been sent to secure ports and international airports and that New Caledonian government officials had “banned TikTok.” The Interior Ministry said an additional 500 police officers would be sent to the archipelago in the coming hours to reinforce the 1,800 police and military policy already in place.

The unrest began this week before politicians in Paris voted on a bill that would give French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years the right to vote in local elections. Some local leaders fear the changes could dilute the vote of the indigenous Kanak people, who make up about 41% of the population and are the largest force in the independence movement.

New Caledonia’s presidential spokesperson Louis Mapo said three of those killed on Wednesday were young people from the indigenous Kanak tribe. The fourth person killed was a military police officer.

All political parties in the region issued a joint statement calling for “calm and reason” as the curfew was extended until Thursday and schools and airports remained closed.

There were reports of several gunfights between civil defence groups and insurgents in the capital Nouméa and the city of Paita.

French authorities say a person has been found shot to death in an industrial area. High Commissioner Louis Le Franc said the shooting did not come from police but “from someone who was probably trying to protect himself.”

Security forces have regained control of Nouméa prison, which houses around 50 prisoners, following riots and an attempted escape by prisoners.

Le Franc warned that there would be “many deaths” in Great Nouméa if calm was not restored.

Anne Clément, a resident of the capital Nouméa, told broadcaster France Info in an interview on Wednesday that the riots had become a “real urban guerilla war.”

In addition to the curfew, carrying weapons, gatherings, and selling alcohol were also prohibited. La Tontuta International Airport remained closed to commercial flights.

On Tuesday, France’s lower house of parliament voted 351 to 153 in favour of constitutional amendments regarding voting rights.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would delay the process of adopting the amendment and invite representatives of the territory’s population to Paris for talks on a negotiated solution. But he said a new agreement must be reached by June or it would take effect.

President Macron is seeking to reestablish his country’s importance in the Pacific region, where China and the United States compete for influence, while France has a strategic presence through regions such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

New Caledonia, located between Australia and Fiji, is one of the French territories that extend all over the world, from the Caribbean Sea and the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and has been part of France since colonial times.

In the 1998 Nouméa Accords, France pledged to gradually transfer more political power to the Pacific island territory, which has a population of about 300,000 people.

Under this agreement, New Caledonia held three referendums regarding its relationship with France, but in each case New Caledonia rejected independence. However, independence continues to enjoy support, especially among the Kanak people.

The Nouméa Agreement also means that New Caledonia’s electoral register has not been updated since 1998. This means that islanders who have immigrated from mainland France or elsewhere in the past 25 years will not have the right to vote in local elections.

The French government has described the exclusion of one-fifth from the vote as “absurd,” while separatists say expanding the electoral roll will benefit pro-French politicians and reduce the weight of the Kanak people.

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