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17 May, 2024 21:00

France claims successful crackdown in Pacific

The riots in New Caledonia have reportedly stopped after the arrival of heavily armed troops
France claims successful crackdown in Pacific

Additional security forces sent from France have stopped the week-long unrest in New Caledonia, the South Pacific territory’s governor said on Friday. 

The archipelago with 270,000 residents is located between Australia and Fiji, 17,000km from Paris. Indigenous Kanak people, who make up about 40% of the population, rose up earlier this week against a proposed law that would allow new settlers to vote.

High Commissioner Louis Le Franc told reporters on Friday that the deployment of an additional 1,000 security personnel imposed “a calmer and more peaceful situation” in the capital city of Noumea for the first time since Monday, although there were “fires at a school and two companies.”

AFP reporters spotted French troops in red berets carrying gas masks, riot shields and rifles around the city. A shopping center was still on fire and dozens of burned-out cars lined the roads.

Hundreds of people lined up outside the remaining shops looking for food and other supplies. The local chamber of commerce said that up to 90% of the grocery distribution network in Noumea had been “wiped out” in the riots, estimating the damage at around $217 million.

Five people were killed in the unrest. One gendarme was shot in the head, while another was killed by friendly fire, according to French officials. Three Kanaks – ages 17, 20 and 36 – were killed as well. Two suspects in the killings have been identified and taken into custody.

Announcing the deployment of reinforcements on Wednesday, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said the authorities would seek “the harshest penalties for rioters and looters.”

Police have detained around 200 suspected rioters and placed ten Kanak independence activists accused of organizing the turmoil under house arrest. The authorities also banned the social media application TikTok for allegedly being used to organize the riots.

TikTok called the decision “regrettable” and said that “no request or question, no demand to withdraw content, had been made by local authorities or the French government.”

Meanwhile, there has been a 150% increase in New Caledonians signing up to use virtual private networks (VPN) that mask their location, according to one provider.

New Caledonia was colonized by France in the 19th century, but the indigenous Kanaks have repeatedly rebelled against the conquerors. The most recent insurrection ended in 1988, when Paris agreed to grant the archipelago increased autonomy.

This week’s riots erupted after President Emmanuel Macron’s government proposed granting residency – and voting rights – to people who have moved to the islands since and lived there for at least a decade. The Kanak independence activists objected, arguing that this would “dilute” their vote. 

New Caledonia is the world’s third largest producer of nickel, which is used extensively in the chemical, construction, and communications industries.

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