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Macron: New Caledonia vote reform won't be 'forced through'

May 23, 2024

The French president said more dialogue was needed as he visited the riot-hit South Pacific archipelago. Macron said that time was needed to calm tensions.

French President Emmanuel Macron pictured on a visit to riot-hit New Caledonia
French President Emmanuel Macron vowed not to force through a planned voting reform in the Pacific territory of New Caledonia Image: Ludovic Marin/AP Photo/picture alliance

France's President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday said a planned voting reform in the South Pacific French territory of New Caledonia, would be put on hold.

Tensions in the French territory erupted into violence on May 13 as French lawmakers debated changes to the French Constitution that would open up New Caledonia's voter lists.

The proposal would extend voting rights to people who have lived in New Caledonia for at least 10 years — seen as less likely to favor independence.

Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-France politicians and damage the separatist cause in any future independence referendum.

More than a week of looting, arson and clashes have left six people dead and hundreds injured.

Macron visits New Caledonia amid social unrest

What Macron said

"I have pledged that this reform will not be forced through in the current context," Macron told reporters in New Caledonia.

"We will allow some weeks to allow a calming of tensions and resumption of dialogue to find a broad accord" among all parties, he added.

Macron said that the situation would be reviewed again within a month.

The French president spoke after a day of meetings with leaders on both sides of New Caledonia's political divide.

Indigenous Kanaks on the archipelago objected to the reform, saying it would dilute their voting influence and favor newcomers to the territory.

Macron is visiting the archipelago after the worst unrest in some 40 years. The fighting comes after decades of tensions between indigenous Kanaks and descendants of colonists and others who have settled in New Caledonia and want to stay part of France.

French territory of New Caledonia sees worst riots in years

State of emergency extended

Macron said he was against extending the current state of emergency, and that it could only be lifted if all political leaders called for the barricades and roadblocks to be removed.

In a call directed to Kanak representatives, he said all politicians needed to call "explicitly" for blockades to come down in the "hours and days to come."

"Once these are withdrawn and this is confirmed the state of emergency will be lifted," he said.

Last week, French soldiers from the armed forces were deployed to secure the island's ports and the airport, and some 500 additional police officers were dispatched to assist the 1,800 already present in the territory.

French lawmakers spark riots in New Caledonia

kb/rc  (AFP, AP)