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France’s President to fly to riot-hit New Caledonia

22-05-2024

PARIA: Emmanuel Macron will fly to New Caledonia on Tuesday night to “set up a mission” on the riot-hit island, France has confirmed.

France’s president will travel to the island after more than a week of unrest there over his government’s voting reform plans, which have been rejected by indigenous Kanaks.

Indigenous leaders say the plans, which will allow more French residents to vote in local elections, will dilute the political influence of native people.

No details about how long Macron plans to stay on the island or what he will be doing there have been given.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal will also visit the French Pacific territory in the coming weeks, a spokesperson has said.

“Faced with the outbreak of violence, the priority is the return of order to allow dialogue to resume in New Caledonia,” said Prisca Thevenot.

She added that while calm was returning, things were not fully back to normal.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he had “spoken with all economic players to build the support of the state”, pointing to looting and destruction of property on the island.

On Monday night, the French president told his defence and Security Council that hundreds of troops sent from France had made progress in restoring order, but would need to stay in New Caledonia for some time.

Australia and New Zealand have begun flying civilians away from the territory.

France’s High Commission in New Caledonia said on Tuesday the airport remained closed for commercial flights, and it would deploy the military to protect public buildings.

French gendarmes trying to take back control of the 60km (37 mile) road between Noumea and La Tontouta international “neutralized” 76 roadblocks and were clearing debris such as burnt-out vehicles, the High Commission also said.

Journalists said the roadblocks had been rebuilt by pro-independence Kanak activists. A masked 25-year-old who gave only his first name Stanley, said the proposed voting reform “means the elimination of the Kanak people”.

“That’s what they don’t understand over there, we are already in the minority in our own home,” he told media.

Australia’s government has estimated that about 3,200 people are waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia, and it has warned people not to try and get to the airport as the route there “is not yet considered safe”.

Four civilians including at least three indigenous Kanak residents have been killed in riots along with two police officers.

Dozens more have been injured and more than 200 people arrested so far.

France has declared a state of emergency and deployed its military to the territory’s ports and international airport.

New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s.

An Australian military transport plane has departed from New Caledonia, carrying travelers stranded after unrest shut down the island’s international airport.

It is the first of two Australian aircraft arriving to rescue 300 citizens who have registered for assistance in the French Pacific territory.

A New Zealand Air Force plane has also arrived, according to Flightradar24, and is among a series of proposed flights which will bring about 50 people home.

The unrest began last week after lawmakers in Paris voted through changes that will allow more French residents to vote in local elections, a move indigenous leaders say will dilute the political influence of native people. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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