Four killed in New Caledonia riots; France declares state of emergency

Published May 16, 2024
MASKED residents watch activists amid protests in Noumea linked to a debate on a constitutional bill aimed at enlarging the electorate for upcoming elections in the overseas French territory of New Caledonia.—AFP
MASKED residents watch activists amid protests in Noumea linked to a debate on a constitutional bill aimed at enlarging the electorate for upcoming elections in the overseas French territory of New Caledonia.—AFP

SYDNEY: France declared a state of emergency on the Pacific island of New Caledonia on Wednesday after three young indigenous Kanak and a police official were killed in riots over electoral reform.

The state of emergency will give authorities additional powers to ban gatherings and forbid people from moving around the French-ruled island. Police reinforcements have been sent — and more are on the way — after rioters torched vehicles and businesses and looted stores. Schools have been shut and there is already a curfew in the capital.

Rioting broke out over a new bill, adopted by lawmakers in Paris on Tuesday, that will allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections — a move some local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.

“Since the start of the week, New Caledonia has been hit by violence of a rare intensity,” said Prime Minister Gabriel Attal. “No violence will be tolerated,” he said, adding that the state of emergency “will allow us to roll out massive means to restore order.” A spokeswoman said Attal had presented to the government a decree to declare the state of emergency and had called on all parties to restart political dialogue. The state of emergency will last for 12 days, she added.

Earlier in the day, a spokesman for New Caledonia’s President Louis Mapou said that three young indigenous Kanak had died in the riots. The French government later announced that 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,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2024

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