New Caledonia high commissioner says "high calibre weapons" fired in riots

Riots broke out in Noumea, New Caledonia, with 36 arrests and police injuries, sparked by France's plan to give voting rights to French immigrants. A curfew and ban on public gatherings were imposed, with tensions high between pro-independence groups and the French government.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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Riots Erupt in New Caledonia Amid Tensions Over Independence and Constitutional Reform

Riots Erupt in New Caledonia Amid Tensions Over Independence and Constitutional Reform

Riots have broken out in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, with high-calibre weapons and hunting rifles fired at security forces, resulting in 36 arrests and numerous police injuries. The violence was sparked by the French government's plans to give the vote to tens of thousands of French immigrants to the Melanesian island chain.

Why this matters: The unrest in New Caledonia has significant implications for the Pacific region, where France is seeking to maintain its influence amidst growing competition with China. The outcome of this crisis will also have far-reaching consequences for the rights and self-determination of indigenous peoples around the world.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed in Noumea, and public gatherings are banned throughout the city. The sale of alcohol and carrying or transport of weapons is prohibited throughout New Caledonia. "Very intense public order disturbances took place last night in Noumea and in neighboring towns, and are still ongoing at this time," said Louis Le Franc, France's high commissioner to New Caledonia.

New Caledonia is a French territory in the Pacific with a population of 270,000, of which 40% are Kanaks, who are marginalized in their own land with lower incomes and poorer health than Europeans. France's control of New Caledonia gives the European nation a security and diplomatic role in the Pacific, amidst growing competition with China.

The French government's plans to enfranchise French immigrants have been met with resistance from the Kanak people, who fear it will undermine their autonomy aspirations. New Caledonia's Congress has passed a resolution calling for France to withdraw the amendment, citing the need for political consensus to maintain stability in the region.

The issue has sparked tensions between pro-independence groups and the French government, with representatives of the FLNKS (Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialist) independence movement refusing to comment on the situation. "When there's no hope in front of us, we will fight, we will struggle. We'll make sure you understand what we are talking about," said Patricia Goa, a New Caledonian politician.

On Monday, New Caledonia's Congress passed a resolution calling for France to withdraw the amendment. The lower house of France's parliament debated the constitutional amendment on Tuesday, with a vote scheduled for the afternoon. However, riots erupted in Noumea that same day, prompting the curfew and ban on public gatherings.

The unrest has resulted in 36 arrests and numerous police injuries, though no members of the general public have been seriously hurt. Significant damage has been reported in the Noumea area, primarily targeting shops, pharmacies, car dealerships, and video protection cameras. An estimated 42,000 people are currently denied the right to vote under the 1998 Noumea Accord, while the proposed amendment would enfranchise 1 in 5 possible voters in New Caledonia.