French police move to regain control of New Caledonia

Layli Foroudi |

Security forces are working to quell deadly unrest over voting reforms in New Caledonia.
Security forces are working to quell deadly unrest over voting reforms in New Caledonia.

French police trying to restore order in the island territory of New Caledonia after days of deadly unrest have cleared dozens of barricades that had been blocking the main road linking the airport to the capital, Noumea, a French official says.

About 60 barricades that protesters had put up along the 60km road have been dismantled but the road was not yet open as debris needed to be cleared, which would take several days, the territory’s high commissioner, Louis Le Franc, told reporters on Sunday.

The two main airlines serving New Caledonia have paused flights because of the unrest on the French-ruled South Pacific territory.

Protests erupted almost a week ago, sparked by anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment that will change who is allowed to participate in elections, which local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.

New Caledonia damage
A state of emergency has been declared in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia. (AP PHOTO)

Six people have been killed and the unrest has left a trail of burnt businesses, torched cars, looted shops, and road barricades, cutting off access to medicine and food.

Three of those killed were indigenous Kanak and two were police officers. 

A sixth person was killed and two seriously injured on Saturday during a gun battle between two groups at a roadblock in Kaala-Gomen, French police said, without identifying the groups.

More than 600 police were mobilised to clear the barricades on the airport road, including some 100 gendarmes who are part of a special, heavily armed unit, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on social media platform X late on Saturday.

“With the forces that I have at my disposition we will be able to re-establish Republican order,” Le Franc said.

He said in a statement the situation was calmer on Saturday night compared to previous nights, but added that there had been two fires and looting.

Le Franc said 230 rioters had been arrested.

Dominique Fochi, secretary-general of the leading independence movement in the territory, urged calm but said the government must suspend the constitutional change.

“We need strong actions to calm the situation,” he told Reuters.

“The government needs to stop putting oil on the fire.”

The measure was approved by MPs in Paris and would allow French people who have lived in New Caledonia for at least 10 years to vote in provincial elections.

President Emanuel Macron has said he will delay signing it into law but that a new agreement between representatives of the territory’s population must be reached before the end of June.