New Caledonia state of emergency comes into effect

New Caledonia state of emergency comes into effect
New Caledonia state of emergency comes into effect

New Caledonia saw a third night of riots over an electoral reform imposed by France. Pacific nations such as Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu have called for peace.

A state of emergency came into effect in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia on Thursday as the island saw its third day of rioting following violence that led to the deaths of four people, including a French police officer.

Riots broke out on Tuesday after lawmakers in France adopted a new bill allowing French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections. Local leaders are concerned this will impact the influence of the Indigenous Kanak peoples’ vote. 

Since 5 a.m. local time (1800 GMT Wednesday), a state of emergency came into force which is set to last for 12 days. It gives authorities the power to ban gatherings and restrict movement across the island, which lies around 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) east of Australia — and almost 17,000 kilometers from France.

Forces have been deployed to protect the two airports and port in New Caledonia, said Louis Le Franc, the high commissioner for New Caledonia. The social media app TikTok has also been banned.

“There will not be the army in the streets of New Caledonia. It is a question of maintaining order,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Thursday, adding that the number of police and gendarmes in deployment on the island would increase from 1,700 to 2,700 by Friday evening.

Pacific nations call for dialogue

Other Pacific countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu called for de-escalation of the crisis and open dialogue between France and local political parties.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the situation was “of serious concern across the Pacific Islands region.” 

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Charlot Salwai raised concerns about the effect of the riots on New Caledonia’s economy and said France should annul the reform.

“These events could have been avoided if the French government had listened,” he said, adding that Paris should establish contact with the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) alliance of political parties which has organized the protests.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong called for calm and added that Australians had been advised against traveling to Noumea.

Meanwhile, Darmanin accused Azerbaijan of interfering with New Caledonian politics. “This isn’t a fantasy…  I regret that some of the separatists have made a deal with Azerbaijan,” he told reporters on Thursday. 

Azerbaijan said it rejected the “baseless accusations.”

The electoral reform is the latest bone of contention in a larger discussion over France’s involvement with the island which it controlled as a colony since the mid-1800s until it was recognized as an overseas territory in 1946.

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