Man shot dead by police in New Caledonia: report


Plans to allow more French residents to vote in New Caledonia has sparked deadly riots.
Plans to allow more French residents to vote in New Caledonia has sparked deadly riots.

Police have shot dead a man in riot-hit New Caledonia a day after President Emmanuel Macron visited the French-ruled Pacific island to try to calm tensions, local media reports, citing the prosecutor’s office.

The police officer used his gun as he and a colleague were attacked by a group of about 15 people on Friday before the shot was fired, NC La 1ere broadcaster quoted the prosecutor as saying.

The prosecutor’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The death of the 48-year-old man, which other local media also reported, brought to seven the number killed in 12 days of upheaval triggered by a contested electoral reform and fuelled by sharp economic disparities between the indigenous Kanak population and people of European background.

A French policeman
Plans to allow more French residents to vote in New Caledonia have sparked deadly riots. (AP PHOTO)

Police removed about 100 roadblocks across New Caledonia after what territorial authorities had described on Friday as a “relatively calm” night following Macron’s visit to the riot-hit island.

About 3000 police officers and gendarmes are on the island, the French High Commission in charge of security in New Caledonia said, adding that 350 people had been arrested so far.

New Caledonia’s international commercial airport would remain closed until at least Saturday when authorities would reassess the situation, the French High Commission said on Friday.

Macron on Thursday hit the pause button on a contested electoral reform that had sparked the deadly riots, pledging to first seek a wider political agreement on the island’s future with all representatives from all parts of the population.

The reform, which Macron said he would push back by several weeks, would allow thousands more French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote, diluting the vote of Kanaks who comprise 41 per cent of the population.

Speaking in the capital Noumea after meeting local political leaders, Macron said his ultimate aim was still to sign the measure into law but only if peace returned and a broader pact on the island’s future could be forged.

Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron says his immediate priority is to restore calm in New Caledonia. (AP PHOTO)

“I am committed to ensuring that this reform will not be implemented by force,” he said in front of the French High Commission building.

France says the measure is needed to improve democracy – almost a quarter of the 271,000 inhabitants identify as European, mainly French. 

Leaders of the indigenous Kanaks want the reform rescinded over fears it will dilute their vote and make it harder for any future referendum on independence to pass.

Macron, who arrived on the island early on Thursday, said his immediate priority was to restore calm, reclaim areas hit by violence and disorder and help bring about political dialogue.

A state of emergency would be lifted if roadblocks were removed, he said.

“Within a month” he would take stock of the situation “and make decisions on the institutional follow-up to be given”, he said.

Macron said the voting reform had “democratic legitimacy” after being passed by MPs in Paris. 

Damaged police vehicle
Emmanuel Macron has lamented the lack of a “common vision” for New Caledonia’s future. (AP PHOTO)

He said there was no doubt over the legitimacy of a 2021 referendum that had showed an overwhelming majority against independence.

Pro-independence parties boycotted the plebiscite and many indigenous Kanaks refused to participate, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and other reasons.

Other local leaders want the voting reforms to be suspended to give time for a broader dialogue over the future of the island.

Electoral rolls were frozen by the 1998 Noumea Accord that ended years of violence by outlining a path to gradual autonomy.

However, the pact’s expiry in 2021 and a Kanak boycott of the independence referendum led to a political impasse.

Macron described the riots as “an unprecedented insurrection whose degree of violence no one would have anticipated” and lamented the lack of a “common vision” for New Caledonia’s future. 

He acknowledged that inequalities had grown and the protests had exposed an ugly undercurrent of racism.

New Caledonia is the world’s third-largest nickel miner but one in five residents lives below the poverty threshold in a territory with huge economic inequalities.