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New Caledonia implements curfew after Noumea riots

New Caledonia, 14 May 2024, (GNP): Administration have sealed the airport and declared a curfew in the French territory in the Indo-Pacific, following revolts on opposition to proposed voting revolution New Zealand’s foreign minister postponed a visit there.

New Caledonia’s government on Tuesday appealed for “reason and calm” after overnight rioting and violent protests in the capital Noumea.

“No reason for discontent, frustration and anger could justify undermining or destroying what the country has been able to build for decades and mortgaging the future,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

The government of the French territory to the east of Australia in the Indo-Pacific deployed security forces and issued a 12-hour overnight curfew for Tuesday night.

The international airport in Noumea was closed and all commercial flights canceled, its operator said.

The New Caledonia high commission also announced a ban on public gatherings and the sale of alcohol, and said that schools and colleges were closed until further notice.

The head of the commission Louis Le Franc reported 36 arrests and “numerous injured” among security forces, but said there had been no serious civilian injuries in the “high intensity” disturbances the previous night.

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He said a group of around 200 often armed youths seemed to be leading the violence targeting police and warned that officers would eventually be forced to return fire unless this ceased.

Proposed changes to the voting system triggered the unrest. They would capable more migrants on the island in many cases from France to vote.

The disturbances began to pick up pace on Monday, a day ahead of a debate in France’s National Assembly parliament on changes to the New Caledonian constitution.

The changes would enable more migrants in the territory to vote, which independence supporters fear will dilute the vote of the indigenous Kanak.

France wants to update a 1998 Noumea deal that helped end a decade of conflict by outlining a path to gradual autonomy and restricting voting rights for local elections to indigenous Kanak and to migrants who had been resident on the island before 1998.

More than a quarter of a century later, Paris plans to open voting rights to people who have been in the country for more than 10 years seamless.

Of the island’s approximately 270,000 inhabitants, around 40,000 are thought to be French nationals disable to vote in local elections, a situation the government in Paris has called “ridiculous”.

“The defrosting of the electoral roll for the sole local elections in New Caledonia is not just a political desire, it is a moral obligation for those who believe in democracy,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in the National Assembly when opening the argue on Monday.