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Macron heading to New Caledonia as France deploys more troops amid unrest | Politics News

Nouméa international airport remains closed as Australia and New Zealand announced they would evacuate tourists on military planes.

French President Emmanuel Macron is traveling to New Caledonia, the government has announced, as hundreds of additional security agents will join 1,500 reinforcements already on the ground after the worst unrest in the French Pacific territory in more than 30 years.

“He will go there this evening,” government spokesperson Prisca Thévenot said on Tuesday, announcing Macron’s trip.

Furthermore, the High Commission of New Caledonia, which represents the French state in the territory, indicated that 600 personnel would be deployed in the coming hours to join those already sent from France.

“The return to calm continues throughout the territory,” the High Commission said in a press release, while adding that the airport in the capital Nouméa would remain closed to commercial flights, the situation to be re-examined on Thursday.

The government said about 3,200 people were waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia when flights were canceled last week when violence erupted following France’s plan to change electoral laws to allow new arrivals to vote in provincial elections.

Six people were killed after makeshift blockades were set up on the streets of Nouméa, cars and businesses were set on fire and stores were looted. The high commission said efforts were underway to clear remaining barriers and remove burned vehicles and other debris.

Australia and New Zealand, for their part, sent their first military planes to New Caledonia to evacuate their nationals.

An Australian C-130 Hercules plane landed Tuesday afternoon at Magenta airport in Nouméa, which usually handles domestic traffic, the AFP news agency reported.

“Passengers are prioritized based on their needs. We continue to work on other flights,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on social media, announcing two first flights.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the first military plane would repatriate “50 passengers with the most urgent needs” to Auckland. He said more flights were planned in the coming days.


‘Afraid’

The civil unrest is the worst in this territory of some 270,000 people since the 1980s and reflects concerns among the indigenous Kanak community, which makes up about 40 percent of the population, that changes to the electoral system would dilute their vote and their political influence.

The voting system for provincial elections was established in the Nouméa Accord of 1998, a result of previous unrest, and excluded later European arrivals from France. According to the new constitutional amendment, those who have lived in New Caledonia for at least 10 years will have the right to vote.

Viro Xulue, a member of a community group providing social assistance to other Kanaks during the crisis, said it felt like a return to the civil war of the 1980s and people were afraid.

“We are really afraid for the police, the French soldiers, and we are afraid for the anti-Kanak terrorist militia,” Xulue told Reuters news agency in a video interview.

Three of the six people killed in the unrest were Kanak youths and were shot dead by armed civilians. There were also clashes between Kanak demonstrators and armed self-defense groups or civilian militias formed to protect themselves, the French High Commission previously indicated.

French officials said over the weekend that security forces had dismantled 76 barricades set up along the 60km road linking Noumea to the international airport, but AFP reported that some had been rebuilt.

One of them was manned by a group of masked Kanaks, some of whom carried homemade catapults.

A 25-year-old masked man, wearing sunglasses, who only gave his first name Stanley, told AFP that the voting reform plan meant “the elimination of the Kanak people”.

“That’s what they don’t understand there: we are already in the minority at home,” he said.

News Source : www.aljazeera.com
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