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4 Dead in New Caledonia Unrest, France Declares State of Emergency

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Socialist-led pro-independence group said it was willing to work with government towards an agreement, only if it furthered their goal of emancipation.

The small Pacific state of New Caledonia is in turmoil as riots, which began last week, continue, with four people reported dead.

The violence is no longer confined to pro-independence protesters and French police, as clashes are now reportedly occurring between demonstrators and civilian groups of pro-French residents.

Power cuts occur without warning, and internet service is erratic.

In the La Coulée district, water pipes have been ruptured by members of the rioting groups. Public transport and taxis in Nouméa remain inoperative and some hotels have reported low food supplies. Roadblocks erected in several roundabout access points were the scenes of violent clashes involving gunfire and tear gas.

More than 130 people have been arrested so far, but it is uncertain how they will be detained as the prison population is already at capacity.

Rioters have burned vehicles and businesses and looted stores. Schools and government offices have been shut and there is already a curfew in the capital.

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France has responded to the latest violence by imposing a state of emergency which will last for 12 days.

It gives authorities additional powers to ban gatherings and forbid people from moving around the island.

It has also banned social media app TikTok, which the government said was used as an organising tool during riots on the French mainland last summer.

French Gendarmerie stand with their shields at the entrance of the Vallee-du-Tir district, in Noumea on May 14, 2024. (Theo Rouby/AFP via Getty Images)
French Gendarmerie stand with their shields at the entrance of the Vallee-du-Tir district, in Noumea on May 14, 2024. (Theo Rouby/AFP via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal vowed “no violence will be tolerated” and said the state of emergency “will allow us to roll out massive means to restore order.”

France has sent around 500 police officers to reinforce the 1,800 usually present on the island, and soldiers are being deployed to secure New Caledonia’s main port and airport.

Earlier, French High Commissioner Louis Le Franc had warned, at a media conference, that “no-one should take themselves to the airport; if they do, it is putting their life at risk. I cannot be clearer.”

He called on people rioting to go home.

“Stop what has been started … It’s not hundreds of aggressors, it’s thousands. I say to the rioters ‘have the courage to say it’s finished, return to calm.’ The alternative is to plunge New Caledonia into misery.”

New Caledonia’s President, pro-independence leader Louis Mapou, also appealed for “calm, peace, stability, and reason” which, he said, “must remain our goals.”

Election Changes Spark Riots

Rioting broke out over a new law adopted by the French National Assembly on Tuesday. The law will let French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years vote in provincial elections.

Some local leaders fear this will dilute the indigenous Kanak vote.

The government has said the change was needed so that elections would be democratic but promised it would not rush calling a special congress of the two houses of parliament to approve the new law.

It has invited pro- and anti-independence leaders for talks in Paris, opening the way to a potential suspension of the Act.

The leading pro-independence group, Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front), condemned the violence and said it would accept the offer of dialogue.

The socialist group said that it was willing to work towards an agreement if it enabled the country to “follow its path toward emancipation.”

President of the Independence Government Louis Mapou attends a press conference in Noumea on May 15, 2024, amid protests linked to a debate on a constitutional bill aimed at enlarging the electorate for upcoming elections of the overseas French territory of New Caledonia. (Theo Rouby/AFP via Getty Images)
President of the Independence Government Louis Mapou attends a press conference in Noumea on May 15, 2024, amid protests linked to a debate on a constitutional bill aimed at enlarging the electorate for upcoming elections of the overseas French territory of New Caledonia. (Theo Rouby/AFP via Getty Images)

4 Confirmed Deaths, 1 Miscarriage

Of the four confirmed deaths, three are young indigenous Kanak people.

Charles Wea, spokesperson for international relations in the office of New Caledonia’s President, said it was a drive-by shooting by “French people.”

Many more were injured and in hospital, he said, adding that the situation was “very, very difficult.”

The French government later said a 24-year-old police official had died from a gunshot wound.

“He took off his helmet [to speak to residents] and he was shot right in the head,” according to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

On Tuesday, emergency services reportedly confirmed to local media that the unborn baby of a woman in labour had died because roadblocks meant the ambulance could not get to her fast enough.

Foreign Nationals Warned

The Australian consulate-general in Nouméa is advising nationals to minimise movements, monitor the media, and follow the advice of local authorities.

The island was plunged into civil war between 1984 and 1988. It, too, was a result of the struggle for independence and ended only with the signing of the 1988 Matignon Accord.

A repeat of those years seems likely according to Nouméa Mayor Sonia Lagarde, who told a press conference that the prospect of “some sort of civil war” was now very real.

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