Monday, June 24, 2024

Death toll rises to six in New Caledonia riots

(Al Jazeera Media Network) Another person has been killed in France’s Pacific Islands territory of New Caledonia as security personnel try to restore order, taking the death toll from nearly a week of unrest and looting to six.

French security forces reported the sixth fatality on Saturday following armed clashes over France’s plan to impose new voting rules that could give tens of thousands of non-Indigenous residents voting rights.

The territory is “on a destructive path,” warned local minister Vaimu’a Muliava on Saturday, telling those involved “you are only punishing yourselves.”

The person was killed in an exchange of fire at a barricade at Kaala-Gomen, in the north of the main island, a security official said, while two people were seriously injured.

Le Monde and other French media outlets said the person killed was a man and that his son was among the injured.

Two police officers were among those who died earlier this week in the unrest that has prompted the government in Paris to impose a state of emergency on the archipelago and rush in reinforcements for security services. Three Indigenous Kanaks have also been killed.

Anger among the Indigenous Kanak people has been simmering for weeks over plans to amend the French constitution to allow people who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in the territory’s provincial elections, diluting a 1998 accord that limited voting rights.

Hundreds of heavily armed French marines and police on Saturday patrolled the capital, Noumea, where streets were filled with debris.

Vehicles and buildings were burned in the city’s Magenta district, the AFP news agency reported, as residents reported hearing gunfire, the drone of helicopters and explosions overnight.

The violence has left an estimated 3,200 tourists and other travellers stranded inside or outside the archipelago by the closure of the international airport in Noumea.

French officials have accused a pro-independence group known as CCAT of being behind the protests. Ten activists accused of organizing the violence have been placed under house arrest, according to authorities.

CCAT on Friday called for “a time of calm to break the spiral of violence.”

New Caledonia has been French territory since colonization in the late 1800s. Centuries on, politics remain dominated by debate about whether the islands should be part of France, autonomous or independent – with opinions split roughly along ethnic lines.

France has accused the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan of interference in the territory. Azerbaijan, which has traditionally had little presence in the Asia Pacific and is nearly 14,000 km away from New Caledonia, has denied the allegations.

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