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Violence rages in New Caledonia as France sends emergency reinforcements to its Pacific territory

PARIS (AP) — Violence raged in New Caledonia for the third consecutive day Thursday, hours after France imposed a state of emergency on French Pacific territorystrengthening the powers of security forces to quell unrest in the archipelago which has long aspired to independence.

the French authorities in New Caledonia and the Interior Ministry in Paris said five people, including two police officers, had been killed after protests earlier this week against electoral reforms pushed by President Emmanuel Macron’s government turned deadly.

At least 60 members of the security forces were injured and 214 people were arrested following clashes with police, arson and looting on Thursday, the territory’s top French official, the high commissioner, said Louis Le Franc.

“Everything is being done to restore the order and calm that Caledonians deserve,” declared French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal after a meeting at the Elysée in Paris.

He said that in addition to the 1,700 security forces already deployed to help police, another 1,000 are on the way, but the situation “remains very tense, with looting, riots, arson and attacks, which are unbearable and indescribable.

Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. France has imposed a state of emergency on the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia.  The measures imposed on Wednesday for at least 12 days strengthen the powers of security forces to quell deadly unrest that left four people dead, erupting after protests against electoral reforms.  (AP Photo/Nicolas Job)
Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. France has imposed a state of emergency on the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia.  The measures imposed on Wednesday for at least 12 days strengthen the powers of security forces to quell deadly unrest that left four people dead, erupting after protests against electoral reforms.  (AP Photo/Nicolas Job)

Two members of the island’s indigenous Kanak community were among the five dead, French Interior and Overseas Minister Gérald Darmanin said Thursday, promising that France would “take back full control.”

He said 10 people, all believed to be members of the independence movement known as the Field Acton Coordination Unit, were under house arrest. In April, the group supported several protests against French authorities on the island.

Darmanin nevertheless claims that the movement is a “small group which calls itself pro-independence, but which instead commits looting, murders and violence”.

Leaders of the Kanak workers’ union in Paris called for calm and said they were deeply saddened by the deaths in their distant country.

“We want to see the French government make a strong political statement rather than sending troops,” union leader Rock Haocas told reporters on Thursday. “Starting a conversation would be a strong political statement.”

In New Caledonia, the National Council of Chiefs of the Kanak Indigenous People condemned “all acts of vandalism and armed violence” but rejected allegations that the independence movement was involved in the deadly violence.

Grand Chief Hippolyte Sinewami-Htamumu has expressed his full support for the independence group, which has mobilized more than a hundred thousand people “of all ages and origins” in peaceful protests in recent months in the capital Nouméa and across the island. . .

“This is not a ‘terrorist group’ or a ‘mafia group,’ as some political leaders want us to believe,” he said in a statement Thursday.

The state of emergency will be in effect for at least 12 days as French military forces are deployed to protect ports and airports and free police troops. The curfew was extended until Friday morning, said Le Franc, the high commissioner.

The territory’s political parties also called for calm on both sides: those who support independence and those who want the island to remain part of France.

The last time France imposed emergency powers on one of its overseas territories was in 1985, also in New Caledonia. The measures allow the French and local authorities of the archipelago to fight against unrest, by authorizing placements under house arrest for people considered to be a threat to public order, by authorizing searches, seizures of weapons and restricting travel, with possible prison sentences for violators.

The Pacific island east of Australia, home to around 270,000 people and 10 time zones ahead of Paris, is known among tourists for its UNESCO-listed atolls and reefs. Tensions have been brewing for decades between indigenous Kanak people seeking independence and descendants of colonizers who want the country to remain part of France.

People of European descent in New Caledonia, which long served as a penal colony for France and now has a French military base, distinguish between the descendants of the colonizers and the descendants of the many prisoners forcibly sent to the territory.

This week’s unrest erupted as the French Parliament debated in Paris an amendment to the French Constitution to make changes to the electoral rolls in New Caledonia. The National Assembly on Wednesday approved a bill that will allow, among other changes, residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections.

Opponents say it will benefit New Caledonia’s pro-French politicians and further marginalize Kanaks, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

Macron said Wednesday he would convene Congress, a joint session of lawmakers from both houses of the French parliament, by the end of June to amend the constitution and pass the bill in the absence of meaningful dialogue and d a consensus between local representatives.

New Caledonia became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon’s nephew and heir. It became an overseas territory after the Second World War, with French citizenship being granted to all Kanaks in 1957.

A peace agreement between rival factions was reached in 1988. A decade later, France promised to grant New Caledonia political power and broad autonomy, and to hold up to three successive referendums on the future of the island.

THE referendums were organized between 2018 and 2021 and a majority of voters chose New Caledonia remain an integral part of France, instead of supporting independence.

The independent Kanak people rejected the results of the last referendum of 2021which they had boycotted because it was held at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Surk reported from Nice, France. Associated Press journalist Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to this report.

News Source : apnews.com
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