Politics 13:15 17/05/2024 World

France says situation 'calmer' in New Caledonia after fourth night of troubles

Hundreds of extra military and police arrived in France's troubled Pacific territory of New Caledonia ahead of a fourth night of troubles that have left five dead and hundreds wounded, officials said Friday, May 17. Opposition to a plan to impose new voting rules has spiraled into deadly violence in the archipelago, Le Monde reports.

State of emergency powers had enabled security forces to impose "a calmer and more peaceful situation" around the capital Nouméa for the first time since the troubles started on Monday, the French government office on the island said in a statement early Friday. But it said there had been "fires at a school and two companies".

Louis Le Franc, the High Commissioner of the Republic in New Caledonia, announced on Friday that a person suspected of homicide had surrendered. "One perpetrator has turned himself in. The others are being sought," he said at a press briefing in Nouméa after days of unrest that have left five dead and hundreds wounded.

He also announced that certain areas of the Pacific territory have "escaped" state control, announcing fresh security deployments after days of deadly violence. "Reinforcements will be arriving ... to control the areas that have escaped us in recent days, where control is no longer assured," the High Commissioner of the Republic in New Caledonia Louis Le Franc told reporters at a briefing.

The violence is the worst seen in New Caledonia, which has a population of about 270,000, since troubles involving independence radicals in the 1980s. Palm-lined boulevards in Nouméa were littered with debris and patrolled by armored vehicles, while some mainly indigenous locals piled up objects to make roadblocks on Thursday.

A second gendarme was killed on Thursday, officials said, with a source telling Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the officer had been hit by friendly fire. Three men aged between 17 and 36 have also died in the troubles.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said about 1,000 extra security forces would be sent to New Caledonia – adding to the 1,700 already present – while authorities would push for "the harshest penalties for rioters and looters".

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said reinforcements had started arriving Thursday. Troops have been called in to secure New Caledonia's international airport, which has been closed to commercial flights, and main ports.

TikTok has been banned because it was being used by protesters, according to authorities. The social media giant called the decision "regrettable" in a statement and said that "no request or question, no demand to withdraw the content, had been made by local authorities or the French government".

As part of the state of emergency about 200 of an estimated 5,000 "rioters" have been detained, French authorities said. Security forces placed five suspected independence activists accused of organizing violence under house arrest, according to authorities. It added that "people have been ambushing law enforcement officers" with "sustained fire from hunting rifles". Sixty-four of the injured are police and security forces.

'Interference'

French lawmakers on Tuesday pushed forward plans to allow outsiders who moved to New Caledonia at least 10 years ago to vote in the territory's elections. Pro-independence forces say that would dilute the vote of Kanaks, who make up about 40% of the population.

A group of independence movements in French territories around the world convened by Azerbaijan issued statements about the riots on Tuesday and Thursday, prompting Darmanin to accuse Baku of "interference". Baku swiftly rejected the allegation as "baseless".

Voting reform must still be approved by a joint sitting of both houses of the French parliament. President Emmanuel Macron has said French lawmakers will vote to adopt the constitutional change by the end of June unless New Caledonia's opposing sides can strike a new deal.

But a videoconference between Macron and New Caledonian lawmakers planned for Thursday was canceled as "the different players did not want to speak to one another", his office said.



Source Panorama.am
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