In France’s New Caledonia, riots leave one person dead and hundreds wounded

Authorities in New Caledonia said on Wednesday that during the second night of riots, there was one fatality, hundreds of injuries, looting, and burning of public buildings as frustration over constitutional changes from Paris reached a boiling point.

Pro-independence protests turned into three days of the worst violence the French Pacific island has seen since the 1980s.

The capital, Noumea, was besieged by heavily armed security forces, and a curfew was imposed, yet rioting persisted almost unabatedly into Tuesday night.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in Paris on Wednesday that hundreds of people, including “around 100” police and gendarmes, had been hurt in the disturbances.

Darmanin said that several residences and businesses had been set on fire, and that one person had been shot dead throughout the course of the night, but investigators had not yet determined the events leading up to the tragedy.

There have been many reports of gunfire clashes between civil defense units and rioters in Noumea and the municipality of Paita.

The ruins of burned-out automobiles and structures, including a sports shop and a massive concrete climbing wall, littered the capital’s streets on Wednesday.

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

“Horrible and intolerable”
The penitentiary in Noumea, which houses roughly 50 offenders, was taken back by security authorities after a prisoner insurrection and attempt at escape, the statement stated.

Since the disturbances started on Monday night, more than 130 individuals have been arrested by the police, and the commission said that many of them have been detained for court appearances.

There have been around sixty police injuries, it claimed.

The selling of alcohol, the carrying of firearms, and meetings were all prohibited, and a curfew was extended for the evening hours.

The high commission announced that residents were advised to limit their daytime travel and that the territory’s La Tontouta International Airport would remain closed to commercial aircraft.

While protestors flocked to the streets, the lower house of parliament in France, located 17,000 kilometers (10,600 miles) away, approved a constitutional amendment that the native Kanak people fiercely opposed.

The reform would provide voting rights to anyone who have been in New Caledonia for ten years, but it still has to be approved by a joint sitting of both chambers of the French parliament.

The Kanaks, an Indigenous community that makes up around 41% of the population and is the main force behind the independence campaign, would lose some of their vote share, according to pro-independence groups.

In a letter to the representatives of the area, French President Emmanuel Macron called for calm and asked them to “unambiguously condemn” the “disgraceful and unacceptable” violence.

Macron said that unless the opposing groups in New Caledonia agree on a new text that “takes into account the progress made and everyone’s aspirations,” French parliamentarians would vote to definitely ratify the constitutional amendment by the end of June.

rivalry in the Pacific
In the Pacific, where China and the United States are fighting for dominance, the French president has been attempting to reaffirm the significance of his nation.

Nestled between Australia and Fiji, New Caledonia is one of numerous French colonies that, in the post-colonial period, stretched across the globe from the Caribbean and Indian Ocean to the Pacific.

France committed to progressively provide the roughly 300,000-person Pacific island region increased political authority in the Noumea Accord of 1998.

Three referendums on New Caledonia’s relationship with France have been conducted in accordance with the agreement, and each one has rejected independence.

However, there is still support for the independence movement, especially among the Kanak Indigenous People.

Additionally, as a result of the Noumea Accord, voter lists in New Caledonia have not been updated since 1998, depriving islanders who have subsequently immigrated from mainland France or abroad of the opportunity to participate in provincial elections.

“The will of our youth”
Daniel Goa, an independence-minded politician in New Caledonia, urged people to “go home” and denounced the stealing.

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 said.

The leader of the opposition to independence, former minister Sonia Backes, criticized the protesters for what she called anti-white bigotry when they set fire to her father’s home, a 70-year-old who had been taken into custody.

She said to France’s BFM TV, “If he wasn’t attacked because he was my father, he was attacked because he was white.”

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