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France Declares New Caledonia Emergency Amid Deadly Protests

Photo : Reuters

Amid escalating violence in New Caledonia, France has mobilized armed forces to safeguard key infrastructures following three consecutive nights of deadly riots. The unrest, which claimed four lives, prompted the deployment of 500 additional police officers, augmenting the existing force of 1,800.

French High Commissioner Louis Le Franc revealed the gravity of the situation, citing confrontations between gendarmes and approximately 5,000 rioters across three municipalities, with the capital Noumea witnessing the largest gathering of between 3,000 to 4,000 individuals. Road barricades erected by protesters have exacerbated the crisis, hampering essential supplies of medicine and food.

The declaration of a state of emergency at 5 a.m. local time furnishes authorities with heightened powers to quell the unrest, including the prohibition of gatherings and restrictions on movement throughout the island. The urgency of the situation is underscored by reports of widespread looting and destruction, as witnessed by resident Yoan Fleurot, who described scenes of chaos and desperation.

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Main and secondary roads in Noumea have been obstructed by flaming barricades, some rigged with improvised explosive devices, posing a grave risk to public safety. Le Franc condemned the violence orchestrated by the Field Action Co-ordination Cell (CCAT), which he denounced as a criminal organization responsible for senseless acts of aggression.

Despite appeals for calm and restraint from the pro-independence party FLNKS, tensions remain high, exacerbated by clashes between CCAT members and self-defense militias. The riots erupted in response to a controversial electoral reform bill, sparking fears of diluting the indigenous Kanak vote.

Tragically, the unrest has claimed the lives of three young Kanak individuals and a 24-year-old police officer, underscoring the severity of the situation. With a state of emergency enforced for 12 days and the banishment of the video-sharing app TikTok, authorities are grappling with restoring order in the midst of a protracted struggle over New Caledonia's political landscape and France's role in the mineral-rich territory.

May 16, 2024 2:57 p.m. 4017

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