French President Emmanuel Macron to visit violence-hit New Caledonia

21 May 2024, 12:54

French President Emmanuel Macron
France Tanzania. Picture: PA

The visit signals France’s growing confidence that reinforced security and emergency measures are bringing unrest on the territory under control.

French President Emmanuel Macron is making a surprise trip to riot-hit New Caledonia.

signalling French authorities’ growing confidence that reinforced security and emergency measures are bringing deadly unrest on the French Pacific territory under control.

French government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot announced the trip, which required a shake-up of Mr Macron’s schedule.

“He will go there tonight,” she said after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday where the president announced that he had decided to travel there himself.

Mr Macron had previously been scheduled in Normandy on Wednesday. Instead, he will be flying to the archipelago 10 time zones away from Paris, east of Australia, that has been gripped by deadly armed clashes, looting and arson with six people killed, including two gendarmes, in the past week.

Paris last Wednesday declared a 12-day minimum state of emergency on the island where indigenous people have long sought independence from France, and rushed in 1,000 reinforcements to bolster security forces that lost control of some parts of the capital, Noumea.

France New Caledonia Unrest
French Army embarking a plane to New Caledonia at the Istres military base, southern France (Etat Major des Armees via AP)

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

“The return to calm is starting to arrive. The situation is not quite totally normalised, but the situation is improving. We are clear: Much remains to be done before the return to normal. The government is fully mobilised.”

A priority for French authorities since the weekend has been clearing the highway to Noumea’s international airport of barricades and the burned hulks of vehicles, raising the prospect for stranded tourists of finally being able to leave.

New Caledonia Unrest
A street in Noumea, New Caledonia, is pictured after unrest (Nicolas Job/AP)

Australia and New Zealand sent planes to New Caledonia on Tuesday to begin bringing home stranded citizens.

Australian foreign minister Penny Wong said Australia had received clearance from French authorities for two evacuation flights.

Hours later, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules touched down in Noumea. The plane can carry 124 passengers, according to the Defence Department.

“We continue to work on further flights,” Ms Wong wrote on the social media platform X on Tuesday.

By Press Association

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