New Caledonia state of emergency to end as France deploys more troops

The Pacific territory has been rocked by unrest over Paris’s plan to allow more Europeans the vote in provincial elections.

A man with a loaf of bread and two baguettes near a Noumea supermarket damaged in recent violence.
Shops and commercial buildings have been attacked in the violence [Theo Rouby/AFP]

The state of emergency in the Pacific island territory of New Caledonia will be lifted on Tuesday morning, after two weeks of violent unrest over French plans to change the rules for provincial elections.

The state of emergency that was imposed on May 16 will end at at 8pm on Monday in Paris (18:00 GMT and 5am on Tuesday in Noumea), the Elysee Palace said in a statement on Sunday evening, adding that some 480 more law enforcement officers would be deployed to the territory as reinforcements for the 3,000 security personnel already on the ground.

Violence erupted in New Caledonia, where about 40 percent of the population are Indigenous Kanaks, as France’s parliament prepared to discuss constitutional changes that would allow those resident in the territory for at least 10 years to vote in provincial elections.

Critics said the amendment would dilute Kanaks’ voting influence and undermine the Noumea Accord, one of two key political agreements agreed to in the wake of the last major outbreak of violence in the 1980s.

At least seven people have been killed in the latest civil unrest, with barricades erected across major roads and commercial sites looted and set on fire.

The seventh victim was shot dead by police on Friday night, shortly after French President Emmanuel Macron visited the islands to try and calm the situation, later promising that the amendment would be withdrawn.

Macron’s decision not to renew the state of emergency showed Paris’s desire to start the process of de-escalation and re-establish conditions for dialogue, the statement added.

The main pro-independence political coalition, FLNKS (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front) issued a communique on Saturday saying the priority was easing tensions and the only viable solution was “political and non-repressive”.

Lifting the state of emergency was intended to allow FLNKS to meet, the French statement said, and the lifting of the roadblocks was also a “necessary condition for the opening of concrete and serious negotiations”.

No announcement was made on the status of a nighttime curfew imposed by local authorities in New Caledonia.

Police are struggling to control certain districts of the capital Noumea, and the international airport will remain closed to commercial traffic until at least June 2, the operator said on Monday.

New Caledonia has been governed by Paris since the 1800s, but many Kanaks resent France’s power over their islands and want fuller autonomy or independence.

The Noumea Accord included a provision for three referendums on independence, which took place in 2018, 2020 and 2021, and voted to remain in France. Kanak groups boycotted the last referendum after Paris ignored their calls for a delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have called for a new internationally-led vote.

The 1998 accord also restricted who could vote in the provincial elections in the territory, which lies east of Australia and some 17,000km (10,600 miles) from mainland France.

France wants to give voting rights to thousands more non-Indigenous people by extending the vote to Europeans who arrived in New Caledonia after 1998.

Macron pledged during his lightning trip to New Caledonia that the planned changes would “not be forced through“.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies