New Caledonia says situation ‘calmer’ after state of emergency imposed

Some 1,000 security personnel have arrived from France to address the worst unrest in the territory since the 1980s.

Official say Noumea was calmer on Thursday night [Yoan Fleurot via Reuters]Published On 17 May 202417 May 2024

Authorities in New Caledonia have described the situation in the French Pacific territory as “calmer” after Paris declared a state of emergency in response to violence that erupted on Monday night over plans to change provincial voting rules.

The officer of the high commissioner of New Caledonia, which represents the French state, said in a statement on Friday that unrest in the provincial capital Noumea had subsided, as hundreds of security reinforcements arrived from Paris.

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“For the first time since Monday, the situation is calmer and more peaceful in greater Noumea,” the commission said in a statement.

However, there had been fires at a school and two businesses overnight, it added.

A resident speaks to a motorist at a temporary barricade to their neighbourhood in Noumea, as the city remains on edge [Theo Rouby/AFP]

Anger has been simmering for weeks over French plans to expand the vote in New Caledonia to outsiders who have lived on the island for 10 years or more, in a relaxation of voting restrictions agreed upon after an earlier period of political unrest in the 1980s.

The Indigenous Kanak population, who make up about 40 percent of the population, fear the move, which was adopted by the National Assembly in Paris on Wednesday, will dilute their vote and political influence.

About 1,000 extra security personnel are expected in New Caledonia, adding to the 1,700 already there, while authorities have said they will push for “the harshest penalties for rioters and looters”. Five people suspected of organising the unrest, which saw roads barricaded, businesses set on fire and looting, were placed under house arrest on Thursday.

At least five people have been killed since the violence broke out on Monday after a second police officer was killed on Thursday. Three civilians, all Kanaks, have also died, while hundreds of people have been injured.

The violence is the worst in the territory in more than 30 years and follows three failed referendums on independence that were part of earlier political agreements to ensure stability. The last referendum in December 2021 was boycotted by Kanak independence groups because it took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and turnout was only 44 percent.

Some 1,000 more security personnel have been sent from France to help deal with the unrest in New Caledonia [Manon Cruz/Reuters]

Independence remains a popular cause in the territory, which lies between Australia and Fiji and was colonised by the French in the late 19th century.

The state of emergency, which includes a nighttime curfew and a ban on gatherings, will remain in force for 12 days.

Source: Al Jazeera