Macron Seeks to Restore Calm in Riot-Hit New Caledonia Amid Electoral Dispute

French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to retain police reinforcements in New Caledonia until order is restored after deadly riots over electoral reforms. Six people have died and local businesses have been vandalized. Macron aims to bring peace, emphasizing dialogue with all factions and delaying hasty decisions.

Reuters | Updated: 23-05-2024 07:05 IST | Created: 23-05-2024 07:05 IST
Macron Seeks to Restore Calm in Riot-Hit New Caledonia Amid Electoral Dispute

President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday police reinforcements in New Caledonia would remain as long as required, as he arrived in the French-ruled Pacific island trying to end deadly riots triggered by a contested electoral reform. Six people have been killed in riots that have left a trail of looted shops and torched cars and businesses since they began more than a week ago. The French government has sent hundreds of additional police to help bring things back under control.

With the island under a state of emergency, Macron said the additional security totalling 3,000 personnel would remain, even during the Paris Olympics if required. "In the coming hours and days, massive new operations will be scheduled where necessary, and republican order in its entirety will be re-established because there is no other choice," Macron said during a meeting with political and business leaders of the island.

"I personally believe that the state of emergency should not be extended," he said, adding it would be lifted only when protesters remove the roadblocks. Protesters fear the electoral reform, already passed by lawmakers in mainland France some 16,000 km (10,000 miles) away, will dilute the votes of indigenous Kanaks, who make up 40% of the island's population of 270,000 people.

As it is a constitutional reform, it requires a meeting of both houses of parliament for it to be ratified and Macron has yet to announce a date for that. PEACE TOP PRIORITY

Thousands of tourists have been stranded by the unrest, with France, Australia and New Zealand organising flights to extract hundreds of people. Macron told reporters earlier on Thursday that a return to peace and security would be the top priorities of his trip, and that he would tackle the most sensitive political issues to discuss the future of New Caledonia.

"My aim here, along with the ministers and the whole government, is to stand by the people," Macron said. "I come here with determination to do everything to bring about a return to calm, with a great deal of respect, humility ... with a thought for the victims."

Aides say Macron has no pre-conceived plan and will talk with all parties about reconstruction in the wake of the riots, as well as about politics, but is unlikely to rush into any major decision. This may disappoint some local groups, including FLNKS, who want Macron to shelve the electoral reform that Paris says is needed to improve democracy on the island. The reform would allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections.

"We are expecting that if he (Macron) travels to Kanaky he will make some strong announcement that he is withdrawing this electoral bill, but if he is just coming here as a provocation that might just turn bad," Jimmy Naouna, from the pro-independence Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), told Reuters on Wednesday. France annexed New Caledonia in 1853 and gave the colony the status of overseas territory in 1946. It is the world's No. 3 nickel miner but the sector is in crisis and one in five residents lives below the poverty threshold.

Electoral rolls were frozen in 1998 under the Noumea Accord, which ended a decade of violence and established a pathway to gradual autonomy, which critics say has now been jeopardised.

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

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