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According to the French government, at least three to four people have been killed in the worst unrest in New Caledonia in more than 30 years after France adopted controversial reforms to the Pacific territory’s voting rules.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin reported that at least four people, including a police officer shot at close range, have died due to the violence. Citizens have responded by setting up roadblocks and forming militias to protect their neighborhoods, while many residents of Nouméa remain barricaded at home. In response, France declared a state of emergency for at least 12 days and sent hundreds of riot police to the territory. Macron called for local leaders to “unambiguously condemn all this violence” and invited both pro- and anti-independence leaders to meet him in Paris.

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What started this:
Recent proposed changes to France’s Constitution would extend voting rights to more non-Indigenous residents of the archipelago. Since France annexed the islands in 1853, there has been a history of conflict and repression among some who live there. The violence in the 1980s led to the deaths of 19 pro-independence activists and two gendarmes, resulting in the 1998 Nouméa Accord, which promised greater political autonomy for the Kanak community. Three referendums for independence have been held since 2018, all unsuccessful but with increasing support for independence. The recent move by the French Parliament to unfreeze voting lists is perceived by Kanaks as undermining their political influence.

Despite the heavy presence of security forces and a night-time curfew, rioting continued. Schools and institutions have been shut down, and hundreds, including many gendarmes, have been injured.

High Commissioner Louis Le Franc emphasized the need for calm, stating, “We’ve entered into a dangerous, deadly spiral now. If the violence does not stop, there will be many more dead.”

Digging Deeper:
New Caledonia holds strategic importance for France in the Indo-Pacific region, and political tensions have long been present, with Indigenous Kanak communities largely supporting independence and French inhabitants opposing it.

Locator Map New Caledonia


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