French President Travels to Violence-Wracked New Caledonia

By Ivan PetrenkoMay 23, 2024 03:00 AMNews
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Silhouette of trees near body of water during sunset
Silhouette of trees near body of water during sunset. Source: unsplash

President Emmanuel Macron is traveling to New Caledonia, a French-controlled Pacific archipelago, in the wake of violent riots over a controversial voting rights bill. Macron is expected to arrive early Thursday, amid ongoing unrest that has led to multiple fatalities and widespread destruction.

Context of the Unrest

The violence erupted following the introduction of a bill in the French parliament that would allow French-born residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in local elections. Pro-independence leaders argue that this measure would dilute the political power of the indigenous Kanak people, who have historically faced discrimination. The clashes have resulted in at least six deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Impact on Noumea

In the capital, Noumea, rioters have looted and burned numerous homes and businesses, prompting authorities to impose a dusk-to-dawn curfew and a ban on public gatherings. The violence has led to the closure of schools, businesses, and the island's main airport, stranding thousands of tourists. Kanak protesters have also set up roadblocks, cutting off essential supplies of food and medicine to residents and tourists.

International Response

Australia and New Zealand have begun evacuating their citizens from New Caledonia. Two Australian military transport planes are facilitating the evacuation of 300 Australian tourists. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced on social media that Canberra has been cleared for two government-assisted flights to evacuate Australians and other tourists. Wong stated that passengers are prioritized based on need, and additional flights are being arranged.

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters confirmed that a plane is being sent to evacuate 50 New Zealand nationals. Peters noted that the New Zealanders have faced significant challenges and that their safe return is a top priority for the government.

French Government Actions

In response to the escalating violence, France has deployed over 1,000 security personnel to restore order, with hundreds more scheduled to arrive by Tuesday. So far, authorities have arrested at least 270 individuals involved in the unrest.

Historical and Political Background

The bill at the center of the controversy was approved by France’s National Assembly last week, with a vote of 351-153. It must still pass a special session of both houses of parliament next month. This measure follows a 1998 agreement granting New Caledonia more political power and autonomy, including the holding of three referendums on the island’s status. However, voters have rejected independence in all three referendums.

President Macron's visit aims to address the grievances of the indigenous population and to find a resolution to the ongoing crisis, as the island grapples with significant political and social tensions.

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