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16 May, 2024 15:08

France blames ex-Soviet republic for unrest in South Pacific

Azerbaijan’s parliament earlier recognized New Caledonia’s right to self-determination, sparking accusations of promoting separatism
France blames ex-Soviet republic for unrest in South Pacific

Azerbaijan played a role in the protests over constitutional reform in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has claimed. 

Violence erupted earlier this week in the French Pacific territory, one of the few areas still under Paris’ control in the post-colonial era, leaving at least five people dead, including two police officers. 

The protests were sparked by a proposal by lawmakers in Paris to give French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for ten years the right to vote in the province. The initiative sparked fears that the votes of the indigenous Kanak people, who make up 40% of the archipelago’s population, could be diluted.

Asked on Thursday whether he believes Azerbaijan, China, or Russia are meddling in New Caledonia’s affairs, Darmanin pointed the finger at Baku. “It’s not a fantasy, it’s a reality,” the minister said, adding that “some of the Caledonian separatists made a deal with Azerbaijan.”

The post-Soviet republic is located around 14,000km from New Caledonia.

Last month, however, Azerbaijan’s parliament and New Caledonia’s congress signed a memorandum of cooperation in which Baku recognized the local population’s right to self-determination. Following the move, Darmanin accused Azerbaijan of supporting separatism on its territory and suggested that Baku was using tensions in the region to respond to France’s “defense of Armenians” who he said were “massacred” by the Azerbaijanis.

Baku has vehemently denied allegations of fostering separatism in New Caledonia, claiming that all insinuations about Azerbaijani interference are baseless.

In April, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aykhan Hajizada rejected claims of ethnic cleansing among Armenians, telling Darmanin that he “should not forget that as part of the colonial policy... [France] has committed crimes against humanity with respect to local peoples and brutally murdered millions of innocent people.”

Relations between France and Azerbaijan have been in a tailspin since Baku’s major military operation in the turbulent region of Karabakh in autumn 2023, which was condemned by Paris. Baku managed to regain control over the predominantly Armenian region, which broke away from Azerbaijan in the waning days of the Soviet Union, triggering a mass exodus of refugees from the area.

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