Two killed in New Caledonia as riots escalate after Paris vote

At least two people have been killed and hundreds injured in the Pacific region of New Caledonia as unrest continues in response to the French parliament giving French residents more voting rights.

Protests over the issue first turned violent on Monday night, when cars, buildings and police stations were reportedly set on fire.

The island between Australia and Fiji has belonged to France since the 19th century. This is the worst unrest seen since the 1980s.

That prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to cancel a trip to the country to chair an emergency defense and security meeting on Wednesday, his office said.

The president’s office said he had previously planned to travel to Normandy in northwestern France early Wednesday morning.

The violence began after Paris lawmakers voted 351-153 to give French citizens who have lived in New Caledonia at least 10 years the right to vote in provincial elections. They argued that it was democratically fair.

However, the change has angered many local residents, who say it marginalizes and diminishes New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanak people.

Violent protests rocked the capital Noumea on Monday evening, including reports of several exchanges of fire between rioters and civil defense groups.

This prompted French authorities to impose a night curfew and ban public gatherings on Tuesday.

However, the High Commission of the French Republic of New Caledonia said on Wednesday that a “serious disturbance” was continuing and that an attempt had been made to break into the prison.

“It has to stop now. We already have one person dead, but if we don’t stop it now, it will be a massacre. I fear for New Caledonia, there are dark times ahead,” said the High Commissioner. Louis Lee . Franc earlier on Wednesday.

France’s interior minister said hundreds of people, including police, had been injured in the riots.

After the vote, Macron sent a letter to representatives of New Caledonia urging them to condemn the violence and ensure peace.

The largest pro-independence party, Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), supported the call and urged protesters to end their roadblocks.

French media have expressed concern about unrest in the French Pacific region, and several are echoing the authorities’ call for calm.

At least 130 people have been arrested so far since the unrest began on Monday, local officials said.

New Caledonia has about 300,000 inhabitants, of which the indigenous Kanak make up about 40%.

In the Treaty of Noumea of ​​1998, France agreed to give the region more political autonomy and to limit voting in provincial and parliamentary elections to residents who were residents at the time.

Since then more than 40,000 French citizens have moved to New Caledonia.

The agreement made it possible to organize three referendums on the future of the country. Independence was rejected in all cases.

The first two showed a slight majority in the rest of France. Third, in December 2021, independence parties boycotted after the authorities refused to postpone the vote due to the Covid epidemic.

“France is more beautiful tonight because New Caledonia has decided to remain part of it,” Macron said after the final 2021 vote.

New Caledonia has a high level of autonomy, but the country is very dependent on France for defense and education, and continues to receive large subsidies from Paris..

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