New Caledonia: Security forces deployed, curfew imposed amid Noumea unrest

Buildings and cars torched after protest against constitutional amendments descended into unrest

A burned out car showroom in Noumea. Cars parked outside have been burned. A man is
A burned out car showroom in Noumea, the New Caledonia capital [Theo Rouby/AFP]

Security forces have been mobilised and a curfew imposed in the French Pacific island territory of New Caledonia after a general strike and protests over proposed constitutional amendments descended into violence.

Shops and buildings were set on fire and looting reported in the capital Noumea, as well as surrounding settlements, on Monday night, after a day of action over the proposed changes which are being debated in Paris and would increase the size of the electorate for upcoming provincial elections.

Many in the Indigenous population fear the move will “further minimise the indigenous Kanak people”. About 41 percent of New Caledonia’s population is Kanak.

Saying that the violence was continuing, Louis Le Franc, the high commissioner of New Caledonia, said in a statement that security forces had been deployed and a curfew would be imposed from 6pm on May 14 (07:00 GMT) until 6am on May 15 (19:00 GMT on May 14).

“The high commissioner condemns in the strongest terms these acts of violence, which constitute serious attacks on people and property,” the statement said.

Videos shared on social media by news outlet NC La 1ere showed black smoke billowing into the sky as some of Noumea’s industrial zones were targeted on Tuesday. Gunfire could also be heard. It described the situation in some areas of the city as “tense”.

New Caledonia’s airport was closed, as were schools.

The high commissioner said 36 people had been arrested.

[Translation: The situation in Noumea’s Normandie district has not calmed]

[Translation: In photos: Chaos in Noumea after a night of riots]

New Caledonia, which has a population of nearly 300,000 people, is one of France’s biggest overseas territories and a key part of its claim as a Pacific power.

Voters rejected independence in a series of referendums that were organised under the so-called Noumea Accord of 1998, which followed earlier violent unrest.

Pro-independence groups boycotted the final vote in December 2021 and rejected the result in which turnout was only 44 percent.

The electoral changes, which triggered mass rallies last month amid rising political tension, aim to update the electoral roll for provincial and New Caledonia assembly elections.

Under the Noumea Accord, those polls are open only to those living in the territory when the accord was signed, which means the 40,000 French citizens who have moved to New Caledonia since 1998 are excluded.

Any changes must secure the backing of three fifths of the national assembly in Paris in order to take effect because the Noumea Accord is part of the French constitution.

Noumea lies about 17,000km (10,563 miles) from Paris.

Source: Al Jazeera