France to deploy army to New Caledonia over riots


The French government has decided to send troops to New Caledonia, a group of islands in the Pacific, to secure its ports and main airport due to ongoing unrest. This decision came after violent clashes erupted in response to changes in voting rules approved by lawmakers in Paris. These changes are seen by the indigenous population as a threat to their political influence.

The violence has resulted in the deaths of at least four people, including a police officer, and many injuries. Shops have been looted, public buildings set on fire, and hundreds of people, including police officers, have been injured.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, after chairing a crisis meeting, announced that a ban on TikTok and a new curfew would be introduced to help restore order. President Emmanuel Macron had already declared a state of emergency, promising a strict response to the violence.

The unrest began when French lawmakers proposed giving voting rights in the province to French residents who have lived there for ten years. This proposal was approved by the lower house of the French parliament on Wednesday morning. The indigenous Kanak people believe this change will dilute their political power.

In response to the violence, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that soldiers would be deployed to secure key locations, such as ports and the main airport. The representative of the central government in New Caledonia, Louis Le Franc, has declared a curfew and banned TikTok.

The capital of New Caledonia, Nouméa, has been the center of violent protests for several nights, with reports of gunfire exchanges between rioters and civil defense groups. On Tuesday, French authorities imposed a night-time curfew and banned public gatherings to try to control the situation. Despite these measures, serious disturbances continued, including an attempted prison break.

New Caledonia has about 300,000 residents, with the indigenous Kanak people making up about 40% of the population. The islands have been a French territory since the 19th century and have not seen such severe unrest since the 1980s.

Under the 1998 Nouméa Accord, France agreed to give New Caledonia more political autonomy and restricted voting in provincial and assembly elections to those who were residents at that time. Since then, more than 40,000 French citizens have moved to New Caledonia. The agreement allowed for three referendums on the territory’s future, with independence being rejected each time. The first two referendums had slim majorities for staying part of France, while the third, held in December 2021, was boycotted by pro-independence parties because the vote was not postponed despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

After the most recent vote in 2021, President Macron said, “Tonight, France is more beautiful because New Caledonia has decided to stay part of it.” New Caledonia has significant autonomy but still relies heavily on France for defense, education, and substantial subsidies from Paris.

In summary, the current unrest in New Caledonia stems from changes to voting rules perceived as threatening to the indigenous population’s political influence. This has led to violence, prompting the French government to deploy troops and implement measures like curfews and a ban on TikTok to restore order. The situation highlights ongoing tensions between maintaining ties with France and the desires of the indigenous population for greater political power and autonomy.


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