Macron's Mission: Addressing Unrest in New Caledonia

French President Emmanuel Macron will visit New Caledonia following violent riots over electoral reform. The riots have caused significant destruction and loss of life. Macron aims to restore order and address local concerns. Meanwhile, evacuations of Australian and New Zealand nationals are ongoing as security forces work to maintain peace.

Reuters | Updated: 21-05-2024 16:45 IST | Created: 21-05-2024 16:45 IST
Macron's Mission: Addressing Unrest in New Caledonia

French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to the Pacific island of New Caledonia on Tuesday, a government spokesperson said, just over a week after riots erupted in the French overseas territory, leaving six dead. The riots over electoral reform have left a trail of destruction with shops looted, cars burnt and road barricades restricting access to medicine and food. The island's business chamber said 150 companies had been looted and burnt.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, French government spokesman Prisca Thevenot said Macron would travel to "set up a mission," without saying what it could entail. Some politicians have called for veteran politicians to be named as mediators, but Thevenot did not say if this was what Macron had in mind.

"Our priority is the return to calm and order," Thevenot said, noting the situation on the ground was improving but more needed to be done. Australia and New Zealand have already begun evacuating nationals from New Caledonia.

Around 3,200 people are waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia after commercial flights were cancelled last week due to the unrest, the local government has said. "New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a challenging few days - and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the government," New Zealand foreign minister Winston Peters said.

The New Zealand Herald reported that a defence force plane had landed in Auckland with some 50 citizens evacuated from New Caledonia. Further flights were expected in the coming days. Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong said clearance had been received for two Australian government assisted-departure flights on Tuesday for tourists wanting to leave.

France's High Commission in New Caledonia said the airport remained closed for commercial flights, and it will deploy the military to protect public buildings. MORE POLICE

Australian officials said passengers were being prioritised based on need. Those left behind were frustrated, said Australian Benen Huntley, honeymooning with wife Emily. "My wife is quite upset, we just want to get home," he said in a telephone interview.

"We opened our hotel door this morning and you could just see an enormous billow of smoke coming off a building in the distance." Queueing to buy bread, the Adelaide couple had seen dozens of gendarmes guarding a petrol station.

Over 1,000 gendarmes and police from France were at work, and another 600 personnel would be added, France's High Commission said. The commission asked French residents who normally live outside New Caledonia to register their details for support to return home.

Protests erupted last week, sparked by anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment approved in France that would change who is allowed to participate in elections. Local leaders fear the change will dilute the Kanak vote. Viro Xulue, part of a community group providing social assistance to other Kanaks, said it felt like a return to the civil war of the 1980s, and people were scared.

"We are really scared about the police, the French soldiers, and we are scared about the anti-Kanak militia terrorist group," Xulue told Reuters in a video interview. Three of the six people killed in the unrest were young Kanaks shot by armed civilians, and there have been confrontations between Kanak protesters and armed self-defence groups or civilian militias formed to protect themselves.

"The French Government doesn't know how to control people here. They send more than 2,000 military to control, but it fails," Xulue said. Pro-independence political parties say they want the French government to withdraw the electoral reform before they restart talks, while France said re-establishing order was a precondition to dialogue.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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