French authorities report sixth death in New Caledonia violence

18 May 2024, 17:54

Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia
APTOPIX New Caledonia Unrest. Picture: PA

The death is the sixth in nearly a week of violent unrest wracking the archipelago whose indigenous population has long sought independence.

French security forces have reported another death in armed clashes in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia.

The fatality is the sixth in nearly a week of violent unrest wracking the archipelago whose indigenous population has long sought independence.

The person was killed in an exchange of fire at one of the many impromptu barricades blocking roads on the island, said a security official.

Two other people were seriously injured in the clash, the official said, confirming French media reports. The official said the firefight erupted at a blockade in the north of the main island, at Kaala-Gomen.

Le Monde and other French news outlets said the person killed was a man and that his son was among the injured.

French security forces boarding a plane to New Caledonia
French security forces boarding a plane to New Caledonia (Etat Major des Armees via AP)

This week’s violence erupted on Monday after protests over voting reforms opposed by pro-independence supporters who have long pushed to break free from France.

Armed clashes, looting and arson have turned parts of the capital, Noumea, into no-go zones and left a vast trail of destruction. Charred hulks of burned out cars litter roads, businesses and shops have been ransacked and buildings turned into smoking ruins, with fires sending billowing clouds of smoke into the South Pacific skies.

Despite a state of emergency imposed on the archipelago by the government in Paris and hundreds of reinforcements for security services that lost control of some neighbourhoods, residents say violence continues to make venturing out perilous. Protesters have blocked roads with barricades, as have residents banding together to protect their homes, neighbourhoods and livelihoods.

Noumea’s mayor, Sonia Lagarde, said on Saturday that while overnight violence has eased somewhat, with a 6pm to 6am curfew in effect, “we are far from a return to normal”.

“The damage is incredible,” she said, speaking to broadcaster BFM-TV. “It’s a spectacle of desolation.”

“The situation is not improving — quite the contrary — despite all the appeals for calm,” she said, describing Noumea as “under siege”.

The remains of a car after unrest in Noumea, New Caledonia
The remains of a car after unrest in Noumea, New Caledonia (Nicolas Job/AP)

The state of emergency gives authorities greater powers to tackle violent protesters, including the possibility of house detention for people deemed a threat to public order and expanded powers to conduct searches, seize weapons and restrict movements, with possible jail time for violators. The last time France imposed such measures on one of its overseas territories was in 1985, also in New Caledonia, the Interior Ministry said.

The violence has prompted Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to take New Caledonia off the globe-trotting itinerary of the Olympic flame slowly making its way to Paris for the July 26 opening ceremony, the French minister for overseas territories, Marie Guevenoux, said.

The torch was scheduled to head to the archipelago on June 11.

“Our security forces are extremely busy, extremely tired. The prime minister is led, responsibly, to take this decision,” she said.

There have been decades of tensions on the archipelago between Indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonisers who want to remain part of France.

The unrest erupted as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French constitution to make changes to voter lists in New Caledonia. The National Assembly approved a bill on Wednesday that will, among other changes, allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections.

Opponents say the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalise indigenous Kanak people. They once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination. The vast archipelago of about 270,000 people east of Australia is 10 time zones ahead of Paris.

By Press Association

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