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French Security Forces Clear Roadblocks Amidst New Caledonia Unrest

Noumea, New Caledonia, May 19, 2024, The Europe Today: Following days of intense unrest and violence, French security forces have dismantled dozens of roadblocks set up by rioters between New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea, and the airport, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc announced on Sunday.

The Pacific territory has been in turmoil, paralyzed by protests triggered by a controversial electoral reform. Officers cleared approximately 60 barricades along the road to the airport, according to Le Franc. However, he noted that the road would only be operational after all debris is removed, a process that could take several days. The High Commissioner, who represents Paris in New Caledonia, affirmed, “With the forces at my disposal, we will be able to re-establish Republican order.”

The situation, although somewhat calmer on Saturday night compared to previous nights, still saw reports of fires and looting. Security forces arrested 230 rioters overnight. In total, more than 600 police officers, including around 100 gendarmes, were deployed to clear the roadblocks, stated French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

At least three indigenous Kanak people and two police officers, one of whom was killed by friendly fire, have died in the unrest. Protests erupted earlier this week over a bill passed by lawmakers in Paris, which will allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for over ten years to vote in provincial elections. Independence supporters fear that the electoral reform could dilute the voting power of the indigenous Kanak people, who constitute about 41% of New Caledonia’s population.

Under the current Noumea Accord, only those who have lived in New Caledonia since at least 1998 are permitted to vote. The agreement, which aims to devolve political power to the territory, led to independence referendums in 2018 and 2020, both of which resulted in votes to remain under French rule. A 2021 vote was largely boycotted by secessionists due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.