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France launches crackdown in New Caledonia as deadly riots rage – POLITICO

A convoy of armored vehicles and heavy construction equipment was dispatched from the capital, with AFP reporting that activists were still manning makeshift roadblocks as of midday Sunday local time. At least 230 people were arrested and Louis Le Franc, New Caledonia’s high commissioner, has since said the road is under government control.

A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday in New Caledonia, after major clashes between demonstrators and police which left six people dead. Shops, cars and government buildings were set on fire in the unrest that erupted after French MPs voted for constitutional changes that would allow all residents of the archipelago to vote in local elections. Many of the island’s indigenous Kanaks fear the move will marginalize their voices and undermine efforts to gain independence from Paris.

The local gendarmerie general, Nicolas Matthéos, ordered the demonstrators to withdraw. “We are going to win these fights,” he said. “If the rioters resist, they will take a lot of risks. So, I invite them to stop the clashes, the hostilities with the police and the gendarmes,” warned Matthéos.

According to Darmanin, the primary objective of the operation is to reconquer a 60-kilometer highway linking the capital Nouméa to the neighboring airport. | Delphine Mayeur/AFP via Getty Images

France has accused Azerbaijan and Russia of stoking unrest in New Caledonia, with an intelligence official telling POLITICO that activity from hostile states had been detected “for weeks, even a few months.” They support the discourse according to which France is a colonialist state.

New Caledonia, named by British explorer James Cook in 1774, was conquered by France in 1853. Since then, development has lagged far behind most other French states, and leaders of the Kanak community say they face discrimination and chronic underinvestment.

However, a series of independence referendums have failed to demonstrate significant support for a break with Paris. A 2021 vote – boycotted by much of the Kanak community – gave a 96.5% majority for maintaining French territory. However, a 2020 referendum found that almost 47% of the population wanted to form an independent country.

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