France declares a state of emergency in New Caledonia as protests rage

The state of emergency came into effect on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (Paris time) in New Caledonia, France.

Paris:

France has declared a state of emergency for the Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia after violent protests against electoral reforms flared, killing one police officer and three others, the Washington Post reported.

New Caledonia, specifically, is a French overseas territory located hundreds of miles off the east coast of Australia.

The violence – the worst in decades – is the latest flashpoint in long-running tensions over Paris' role in the archipelago.

“On behalf of the government, I repeat to you the call for calm and reconciliation,” government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot said on Wednesday during a news briefing after a ministerial meeting.

She paid tribute to the four people who lost their lives in the unrest and called for “the resumption of political dialogue” to find a solution to the violence.

The state of emergency came into effect on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (Paris time) and at 5 a.m. in Noumea, the island's capital.

Under French law, a state of emergency can be declared in situations of “imminent danger due to serious violations of public order.”

It grants local authorities extensive powers, for example to close public access to certain areas, and to conduct searches and prevent certain persons from entering those areas if they are deemed to pose a threat to public safety , the Washington Post reported.

“All the violence is intolerable and will be the subject of a brutal response to ensure the return of order,” a statement from French President Emmanuel Macron's office said on Wednesday.

Responding to the violent protest, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said: “Since the beginning of the week, New Caledonia has been hit by violence of a rare intensity.” He added that a state of emergency “will allow us to deploy enormous resources to restore order.”

https://x.com/GabrielAttal/status/1790843748928135470

The unrest began on Monday as French lawmakers prepared to vote on a decision to expand voting rights in the territory. However, critics argue that this could marginalize the indigenous Kanak people and benefit pro-French politicians. The National Assembly adopted the revision overnight.

But before the legislation becomes law, both houses of Parliament must vote one last time, the Voice of America reported.

Groups representing the Kanak people – who make up about 40 percent of the area's 3,00,000 residents – have long sought independence, while the descendants of European settlers want to remain part of France, according to the Washington Post.

Under the 1998 Noumea Accord, which helped end a decade of unrest, voting was to be limited to Kanaks and those born before 1998. But the new constitutional measure will allow anyone who has lived in New Caledonia for ten years to give the opportunity to vote. local elections – reducing the power of the Kanaks.

“We feel oppressed, we are angry,” Voice of America quoted a woman to Caledonia TV. She wondered if people in France listened to Kanaks like her.

French Interior and Overseas Territories Minister Gerald Darmanin told French radio RTL early on Wednesday that “hundreds” of people were injured, including about 100 police and gendarmes whose barracks were attacked with axes and live ammunition.

“Calm must absolutely be restored,” he said. “There are hundreds of people injured in New Caledonia, dozens of homes and businesses torched and set on fire.”

The French High Commission said on Wednesday that at least 130 people had been arrested. It also reported “numerous” incidents of arson and looting against businesses, infrastructure and public buildings. The mission added that there was an attempted “prison break.”

The French government has announced the deployment of additional police officers and gendarmes for reinforcement.

French authorities also imposed a curfew and banned gatherings in the capital Noumea. La Tontouta International Airport in New Caledonia is closed to commercial flights.

Mineral-rich New Caledonia was annexed by France in 1853 and all residents were granted French citizenship in 1957. However, according to the Washington Post, the area has seen decades of tension between Kanaks and European descendants over the issue of independence.

In addition to rules on voting rights, the 1998 Noumea Agreement included provisions for three referenda to decide New Caledonia's future, but each rejected “independence.” Notably, the last vote, held in December 2021, was boycotted by pro-independence parties due to the coronavirus pandemic.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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