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New Caledonia: French forces clear roadblocks to airport

May 19, 2024

France has been attempting to restore order in the Pacific territory since riots broke out earlier this week. Airlines have suspended flights over the unrest.

A gendarme armed vehicle equipped with a large front blade drives past a burnt car along a round in New Caledonia
French gendarmes worked to clear out barricades on the road connecting Noumea to New Caledonia's international airportImage: Delphine Mayeur/AFP

Following days of unrest and violence in New Caledonia, French security forces have smashed through dozens of roadblocks set up by rioters between the territory's capital, Noumea, and the airport, according to High Commissioner Louis Le Franc.

France has been attempting to restore order in the Pacific territory, which has been paralyzed by unrest sparked by a controversial electoral reform.

What do we know about the police action in Noumea?

Officers had cleared up around 60 barricades set up along the road to the airport, Le Franc said on Sunday.

However, the commissioner said that the road will only be operational after debris is cleared, which could still take several days.

The High Commissioner is Paris' representative in New Caledonia.

"With the forces that I have at my disposition we will be able to re-establish Republican order," Le Franc said.

He said that the situation was calmer on Saturday night compared to previous nights but that fires and looting were reported once again.

Security forces arrested 230 rioters overnight, according to the commissioner.

The two main airlines serving New Caledonia have paused flights due to unrest in the French Pacific territory.

More than 600 police officers were deployed to clear the barricades on the road to the airport, including some 100 gendarmes, according to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

At least three indigenous Kanak people have been killed in the unrest, as have two police officers, one of which was shot in friendly fire.

A sixth person was killed and two were injured on Saturday in gunfire between two groups.

New Caledonian flags on barricade set up by protesters at the La Pirogue pass in the commune of Paita
Supporters of New Caledonia's secession from France are worried the electoral reform could weaken the Kanak voting blocImage: Delphine Mayeur/AFP

Why did riots break out in New Caledonia?

Protests began earlier this week over a bill passed by lawmakers in Paris that will allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for over 10 years to vote in provincial elections.

Supporters of the territory's independence from France are concerned that the electoral reform could dilute the vote of the indigenous Kanak people. Kanaks make up around 41% of New Caledonia's population.

Currently, only those who have lived in New Caledonia since at least 1998 are allowed to vote under the Noumea Accord in which Paris pledged to devolve political power to the territory.

The agreement also led to independence referendums in 2018 and 2020, in which New Caledonia voted to stay under French rule. A 2021 vote was largely boycotted by secessionists, who cited concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

sdi/dj (Reuters, AFP)