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French police deployed to New Caledonia amid road blockage due to protests

Photo : AFP

French police have arrived in protest-hit New Caledonia as tensions escalate amid road blockades and riots. The activist group leading the protests, Field Action Coordination Cell (CCAT), vowed to continue blockades while urging for peaceful demonstrations. Despite the arrival of a thousand police officers from France and relatively calm streets, roads remain blocked and the airport closed, leaving tourists stranded on the Pacific island after a week of unrest.

According to New Caledonia government officials, roadblocks are hindering the supply of food to stores and secure travel for medical staff, emphasizing that the issue lies in access rather than shortages. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed deep concern over the situation, especially after reports of fire and looting. France's top official in the territory, Louis Le Franc, stated that regaining control of the roads would take several days.

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Gendarmes have already dismantled 76 roadblocks, but challenges persist. Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed ongoing discussions with French counterparts regarding law and order management in Noumea, with potential airlifts from Australia to evacuate stranded tourists. Efforts for evacuation flights are underway, but approval from French authorities is pending, leaving around 3,200 individuals waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia.

The unrest stems from indigenous Kanak people's anger over a constitutional amendment in France that alters electoral participation rules, raising concerns about diluting Kanak representation. The protests have resulted in six fatalities, including indigenous youths and police officers, alongside widespread damage to businesses and property. Pro-independence groups demand the withdrawal of the electoral reform before resuming talks with the French government.

May 20, 2024 5:06 p.m. 545

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