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New Caledonia police arrest independence leader and 7 others

June 19, 2024

Christian Tein stands accused of "organized crime" following the police operation that comes after the unrest in May that led to several deaths.

A Kanak is wearing a shirt in Kanaky's colors and holding a Kanaky flag
The protests, which came about over France's decision to expand the electorate to include some French residents, saw several people dieImage: picture alliance/NurPhoto

Police in the restive French Pacific territory of New Caledonia arrested eight people on Wednesday, including independence leader Christian Tein.

The group were detained on suspicion of being involved in the deadly violence that swept through the archipelago, where Indigenous Kanak people have long sought to break free from France.

What we know about the arrests

The early morning round-up was another part of a police investigation that got underway on May 17, just days after the unrest first unfolded. It soon evolved into a wave of armed clashes, looting, blazes, and other violence that turned parts of the capital, Noumea, and its suburbs, into no-go areas.

Wednesday's police operation prompted many businesses, shops, and the Noumea town hall to close, over concerns that more unrest could occur.

Macron visits New Caledonia amid social unrest

Tein, who leads a branch of Caledonian Union called the Field Action Coordination Cell (CCAT), was the only detainee named by Yves Dupas, chief prosecutor in Noumea. Dupas said he was arrested for "organized crime" offenses, which means he can be detained for up to 96 hours.

Why was there so much unrest?

The May unrest that led to the deaths of nine people, including two police officers, came after France voted to approve reforms to allow thousands more French residents who have lived in the French Pacific territory for 10 years to vote.

French territory of New Caledonia sees worst riots in years

Indigenous Kanaks fear it will reduce the chances of any future referendum on independence, while France says the measure is required to improve democracy.

France is currently in the midst of a frenzied campaign after President Emmanuel Macron called snap parliamentary elections. As a result, the French president has suspended the reforms that would have altered voting rights in New Caledonia.

French President Emmanuel Macron smiles during a speech at the New Caledonia's High Commissioner residency, in Noumea
Macron visited New Caledonia shortly after the unrest beganImage: Ludovic Marin/AP/picture alliance

With unrest now ebbing, the archipelago's curfew has been shortened by two hours while its international airport has reopened to commercial flights.

jsi/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP)