14 May 2024, 10:30

New Caledonia announces curfew after riots over voting reforms

NOUMEA, May 14, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - New Caledonia announced a night-time
curfew Tuesday and a ban on public gatherings after protests against proposed
voting reforms in the French Pacific territory erupted into overnight riots,
with vehicles torched and shops looted.

At least two car dealerships and a bottling factory in the capital Noumea
were set on fire in arson attacks, an AFP journalist saw.

Several supermarkets were also looted in Noumea and the neighbouring towns of
Dumbea and Mont-Dore.

From late Monday night, groups of young masked or hooded demonstrators took
over several roundabouts and confronted the police, who responded with non-
lethal rounds. A police source said several vehicles were torched during
violent clashes.

A total of 36 people were arrested and 30 police officers injured, according
to authorities.

"Very intense public order disturbances took place last night in Noumea and
in neighbouring municipalities, and are still ongoing at this time," the high
commission, the representative of the French state in New Caledonia, said in
a statement Tuesday.

The commission said it was "massively mobilising internal security and civil
security forces" over the unrest but "no serious injuries were reported among
the population".

"The high commissioner strongly condemns these acts of violence, constituting
serious harm to people and property."

- Frozen voter lists -

The unrest erupted Monday as protesters demonstrated against a constitutional
reform being debated in the national assembly in Paris which aims to expand
the electorate in the territory's provincial elections.

France vowed in the Noumea Accord of 1998 to gradually give more political
power to the Pacific island territory of nearly 300,000 people.

Under the agreement, New Caledonia has held three referendums over its ties
with France, all rejecting independence.

The pro-independence Indigenous Kanaks rejected the result of the last
referendum held in December 2021, which they had boycotted due to the Covid

The Noumea Accord has also meant that New Caledonia's voter lists have not
been updated since 1998 -- meaning that island residents who arrived from
mainland France or elsewhere anytime in the past 25 years do not have the
right to take part in provincial polls.

The French government has branded the exclusion of one out of five people
from voting as "absurd", while separatists fear that expanding voter lists
would benefit pro-France politicians and "further minimise the Indigenous
Kanak people".

After a night of unrest, the New Caledonia high commission announced a ban on
public gatherings and the sale of alcohol and said a curfew would be imposed
from 6:00 pm Tuesday until 6:00 am Wednesday.

Schools and colleges are closed until further notice and the international
airport is also shut.

"The high commissioner calls on the population to stay at home and limit
their travel in the coming hours."

New Zealand said Tuesday Foreign Minister Winston Peters had cancelled his
visit to New Caledonia due to the unrest.

"In discussions with our French and New Caledonian hosts, we have decided to
postpone this week's travel to Noumea to allow authorities to fully focus on
the current situation," his spokesperson said in a statement.

During a visit to the territory last year, President Emmanuel Macron said he
wanted a revised constitutional status for New Caledonia to be in place by
the beginning of 2024.

Macron has been seeking to reassert his country's importance in the Pacific
region, where China and the United States are vying for influence but France
has territories such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

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