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New Caledonia Under Siege Following Days of Deadly Riots

Nouméa, New Caledonia, May 19, 2024, The Europe Today: The Pacific territory of New Caledonia is experiencing severe unrest, with six people dead after days of rioting. Sonia Lagarde, mayor of the capital Nouméa, described the territory as being “under siege,” with numerous public buildings set ablaze.

Despite the deployment of hundreds of police reinforcements, the situation remains volatile. French gendarmes have launched a significant operation to reclaim control of the critical 60km (37-mile) road linking Nouméa and the airport, according to France’s interior minister.

The unrest erupted last week following the French parliament’s approval of legislation allowing more French residents to vote in local elections, a move indigenous leaders argue will dilute the political influence of native people.

A sixth fatality occurred on Saturday during an exchange of gunfire at a makeshift roadblock in the north. The deceased include three indigenous Kanak residents, aged 17 to 36, and two police officers.

Authorities have made over 200 arrests and dispatched approximately 1,000 additional officers to bolster the 1,700 personnel already present. Images from the territory depict rows of burned-out cars, makeshift roadblocks, and long queues outside supermarkets.

In response to the violence, a state of emergency has been declared, including a night-time curfew and bans on public gatherings, alcohol sales, and the carrying of weapons.

While the past two nights have seen a relative calm, daytime unrest persists. Mayor Lagarde described the destruction as extensive, with municipal buildings, libraries, and schools among those damaged.

“Can we say that we are in a besieged city? Yes, I think we can say that,” she said, calling the situation “desolation” and urging for more time for security forces to stabilize the area.

Residents report hearing gunfire, helicopters, and explosions from gas canisters inside burning buildings. Helene, a 42-year-old resident, shared her experience of guarding barricades and hearing nightly disturbances.

Tourists stranded in the territory are facing supply shortages. Joanne Elias from Australia, staying in a resort in Nouméa with her family, described rationing supplies and filling a bathtub in case water supplies were cut off.

The opposition to the new voting law has garnered support in France, with solidarity protests in Toulouse and Kanak flags displayed at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris.

The unrest has also rekindled diplomatic tensions between France and Azerbaijan, stemming from Azerbaijan’s actions in Nagorno-Karabakh last year. France had supported Armenia in the dispute.

On Friday, French government agency Viginum reported detecting a “massive and coordinated” online campaign alleging that French police shot pro-independence demonstrators in New Caledonia. The government suspects “Azerbaijani actors” of involvement, a claim Azerbaijan denies. Consequently, TikTok has been blocked in the territory.

New Caledonia has held three referendums on independence. The first two indicated slim majorities for remaining part of France, while the third was boycotted by pro-independence parties after authorities refused to delay the vote due to the COVID-19 pandemic.