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France’s Macron arrives in riot-hit New Caledonia – DW – 05/23/2024

President Emmanuel Macron met with local officials in New Caledonia on Wednesday, seeking a political solution to end riots in the French South Pacific archipelago.

A recent change in voting rights, adopted in mainland France, has aggravated ethnic tensions in New Caledonia and triggered deadly violence there.

Indigenous Kanaks seek independence for a territory of 270,000 people and see the changes as part of an effort to dash that dream.

Restoring calm: absolute priority

Upon his arrival at La Tontouta international airport, Macron said restoring calm was the top priority.

Six people have been killed in riots that have left a string of stores looted and cars and businesses burned since they began more than a week ago.

Macron’s desire, like that of his ministers and the government, was “to be alongside the people and to see a return to peace, calm and security as quickly as possible.”

“We will discuss questions of economic reconstruction, support and rapid response, as well as the most delicate political questions, while discussing the future of New Caledonia,” Macron added.

“By the end of the day, decisions will be made and announcements made.”

Some 3,000 security officers have been deployed to New Caledonia and the French president has insisted they will stay there as long as necessary.

The decision to strengthen security in New Caledonia could leave France a little exposed internally, particularly with the Paris agreement. Olympic and Paralympic Games on the horizon.

While Macron said he was opposed to extending the current state of emergency, he said it could only be lifted if all political leaders called for the removal of barricades and roadblocks.

Marcon seeks to restore order

The Elysée said Macron’s visit would focus on restoring order and promoting talks between local leaders. The visit would also discuss the extensive reconstruction needed after the violence, the damage to which is estimated at several hundred million euros (dollars).

“Faced with the increase in violence, the priority is the return of order to allow the resumption of dialogue in New Caledonia,” declared government spokesperson, Prisca Thévenot.

“We are clear: much remains to be done before returning to normal. The government is fully mobilized.”

What started the unrest?

Violence exploded on May 13 as the French Parliament debated changes to the French Constitution in Paris that would open up New Caledonia’s electoral rolls.

The proposal would extend the right to vote to people who have resided in New Caledonia for at least 10 years, considered less likely to support independence.

French MPs trigger riots in New Caledonia

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Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-French politicians and harm the separatist cause in a future independence referendum.

These unrest are the worst in around forty years and come after decades of tensions between the indigenous Kanaks and the descendants of settlers and other people settled in New Caledonia and wishing to stay in France.

The violence continues, with six deaths so far and a trail of burned cars and looted stores left behind.

Two primary schools and 300 cars at a dealership were set on fire on Wednesday night in Nouméa, the capital, the town hall told the AFP news agency.

Independence supporters and others seeking to protect homes and villages from violence erected barricades in the streets.

The New Caledonian High Commission indicated on Wednesday that some 1,050 gendarmerie, police and civil security reinforcements had been deployed and that more than 90 roadblocks had been dismantled.

rc/wmr (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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