One Dead, Hundreds Injured As Riots Sweep New Caledonia

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CALEDONIA RIOTS

One Dead, Hundreds Injured As Riots Sweep New Caledonia

 

One person was killed, hundreds more were injured, shops were looted and public buildings torched during a second night of rioting in New Caledonia, authorities said Wednesday, as anger over constitutional reforms from Paris boiled over.

What began as pro-independence demonstrations have spiralled into three days of the worst violence seen on the French Pacific archipelago since the 1980s.

Despite heavily armed security forces fanning out across the capital Noumea and the ordering of a nighttime curfew, rioting continued overnight Tuesday virtually unabated.

Hundreds of people including “around 100” police and gendarmes have been injured in the unrest, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Wednesday in Paris.

One person had been shot dead overnight but authorities were yet to establish the circumstances that led to the incident, Darmanin said, adding that dozens of homes and businesses had been torched.

In Noumea and the commune of Paita there were reports of several exchanges of fire between civil defence groups and rioters.

On Wednesday, streets in the capital were pocked by the shells of burned-out cars and buildings, including a sports store and a large concrete climbing wall.

“Numerous arsons and pillaging of shops, infrastructure and public buildings — including primary and secondary schools — were carried out,” said the High Commission, which represents Paris in the islands.

‘Disgraceful and unacceptable’ 

Security forces had managed to regain control of Noumea’s penitentiary, which holds about 50 inmates, after an uprising and escape attempt by prisoners, it said in a statement.

Police have arrested more than 130 people since the riots broke out Monday night, with dozens placed in detention to face court hearings, the commission said.

About 60 police have been injured, it said.

A nighttime curfew was extended, along with bans on gatherings, the carrying of weapons and the sale of alcohol.

The territory’s La Tontouta International Airport remained closed to commercial flights and people were urged to restrict any travel during the day, the high commission said.

As rioters took to the streets, France’s lower house of parliament 17,000 kilometres (10,600 miles) away voted in favour of a constitutional change bitterly opposed by indigenous Kanaks.

The reform — which must still be approved by a joint sitting of both houses of the French parliament — would give a vote to people who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years.

Pro-independence forces say it would dilute the share of the vote held by Kanaks, the Indigenous group that makes up about 41 percent of the population and the major force in the pro-independence movement.

French President Emmanuel Macron urged calm in a letter to the territory’s representatives, calling on them to “unambiguously condemn”  the “disgraceful and unacceptable” violence.

Macron said French lawmakers would vote to definitively adopt the constitutional change by the end of June unless New Caledonia’s opposing sides agree on a new text that “takes into account the progress made and everyone’s aspirations”.

Pacific rivalry 

The French leader has been seeking to reassert his country’s importance in the Pacific region, where China and the United States are vying for influence.

Lying between Australia and Fiji, New Caledonia is one of several French territories spanning the globe from the Caribbean and Indian Ocean to the Pacific in the post-colonial era.

In the Noumea Accord of 1998, France vowed to gradually give more political power to the Pacific island territory of nearly 300,000 people.

As part of the agreement, New Caledonia has held three referendums over its ties with France, all rejecting independence.

But the independence movement retains support, particularly among the Indigenous Kanak people.

The Noumea Accord has also meant that New Caledonia’s voter lists have not been updated since 1998 — depriving island residents who arrived from mainland France or elsewhere since then of a vote in provincial polls.

‘Determination of our young’ 

A New Caledonia pro-independence leader, Daniel Goa, asked people to “go home”, and condemned the looting.

But “the unrest of the last 24 hours reveals the determination of our young people to no longer let France take control of them,” he added.

The main figure of the non-independence camp, the former minister Sonia Backes, denounced what she described as anti-white racism of demonstrators who burned down the house of her father, a man in his 70s who was evacuated by the security forces.

“If he was not attacked because he was my father, he was at least attacked because he was white,” she told France’s BFM TV.

AFP