France sends more police to New Caledonia riots as three killed on streets

Emmanuel Macron has convened a meeting of top French ministers to discuss spiralling violence in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, his office said.

Three people have been killed in the unrest, an official said, as rioting continued and stores and schools remained shut on Wednesday after France’s National Assembly approved changes to voting rules in the Pacific island.

The three dead were young indigenous Kanak, said a spokesman for president Louis Mapou. He said the information was provided by police.

The special defence and security council meetings typically bring Mr Macron together with a limited group of officials, including prime minister Gabriel Attal and the ministers for defence, interior, economy and foreign affairs.

On Wednesday, a person was fatally shot in the French Pacific territory as violent unrest over a constitutional reform pushed by Paris led to anger on the archipelago, which has long sought independence.

On Tuesday, the French Interior Ministry sent police reinforcements to New Caledonia, which long served as a prison colony and now hosts a French military base.

France’s Minister for Interior and Overseas Gerald Darmanin (R) and France’s Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti attend a debate on the constitutional bill aimed at enlarging the electorate of the overseas French territory of New Caledonia (AFP via Getty Images)

French interior and overseas territories minister Gerald Darmanin said four mobile gendarmerie squadrons are being deployed as reinforcements, including 15 gendarmes from an elite intervention unit.

The unrest started as French lawmakers debated voting reforms which would increase the number of people who could cast ballots in New Caledonia.

Opponents say expanding voter lists that have not been updated since 1998 would benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalise the indigenous Kanak people, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

People of European descent in New Caledonia distinguish between descendants of colonisers and descendants of the many prisoners sent to the territory by force. The vast archipelago of about 270,000 people east of Australia is 10 time zones ahead of Paris.

French gendarmerie armored vehicle Berliet VXB-170 (or VBRG) is seen at the entrance of the Vallee-du-Tir district, in Noumea on May 14, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

The major pro-independence political group, Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), said in a statement on Wednesday it would accept Macron’s offer of dialogue and was willing to work toward an agreement “that would allow New Caledonia to follow its path toward emancipation”.

On Wednesday morning, Lilou Garrido Navarro Kherachi, 19, drove around protestor blockades in Noumea and saw burning cars and buildings, including a ruined veterinary clinic where the neighbors had evacuated the animals before the fire spread.

Police were outnumbered by protestors, she told Reuters.

“The real problem is the youngsters who trash, burn and loot. We didn’t see any police deployed on site,” she said.

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