New Caledonia separatists defy French efforts to unblock roads | World News - Hindustan Times
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New Caledonia separatists defy French efforts to unblock roads

AFP |
May 21, 2024 01:50 AM IST

New Caledonia separatists defy French efforts to unblock roads

New Caledonia's international airport remained closed Monday as separatists refused to abandon roadblocks that have paralysed the Pacific archipelago for a week, even as the French government insisted a major security operation was beginning to restore calm.

New Caledonia separatists defy French efforts to unblock roads
New Caledonia separatists defy French efforts to unblock roads

France has sent 1,000 security forces to its overseas territory, which has been rocked by seven nights of violence that have left six dead, including two gendarmes, and hundreds injured.

French President Emmanuel Macron told a meeting of his defence and security council on Monday evening that there was "clear progress in re-establishing order".

The latest unrest in the Pacific territory of 270,000 people erupted over French plans to impose new rules that would give tens of thousands of non-indigenous residents voting rights.

Macron warned during the meeting that the military would need to remain deployed in New Caledonia "for some time".

Some 600 heavily armed French police and paramilitaries destroyed 76 roadblocks on the 60-kilometre route between the capital Noumea and La Tontouta International Airport, officials said.

But pro-independence largely indigenous Kanak activists vowed they would not give up, and AFP journalists said some roadblocks taken down by security forces were being rebuilt by pro-independence forces.

A pickup truck drove through one Noumea suburb with about 10 masked and hooded men wielding machetes, AFP correspondents said.

Anti-riot blast balls, often used to release tear gas or pepper spray, could be heard in one Noumea suburb.

"It feels like being in The Walking Dead," local post office director Thomas de Deckker told AFP, referring to the post-apocalyptic zombie television series.

Sonia Lagarde, the mayor of Noumea, speaking to French daily Le Monde, said the approval of the reform by both houses of the French parliament should be postponed.

The government heads of four other French overseas territories La Reunion in the Indian Ocean, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean and French Guiana in South America on Sunday called for the voting reform to be withdrawn altogether to avoid "civil war".

The New Caledonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Monday that the troubles had caused "catastrophic" economic damage, with 150 businesses "looted and set on fire".

Noumea airport will remain closed to commercial flights until Thursday.

Australia and New Zealand are waiting to be able to evacuate tourists trapped on the island.

Military aircraft carrying the remains of two gendarmes killed in New Caledonia landed in France early Monday.

"Their names were Nicolas Molinari and Xavier Salou," French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said on X, formerly Twitter. "The whole nation bows before their coffins."

Paris has accused a group known as Ground Action Coordination Cell, or CCAT, of being behind the riots.

CCAT said Monday it was "maintaining" barricades that were in place. Some CCAT leaders are under house arrest on suspicion of organising the troubles.

Indigenous Kanaks had suffered from discrimination for too long, the group added, insisting it sought a peaceful resolution, but criticising the French "colonial state" plan to expand voting rights.

"The islands are on fire, for sure, but we have to remember that they tried to be heard for a long time and it led to nothing," said one resident, Laloua Savea.

"It had to degenerate for the state to see us, for the politicians to see us," she said.

Authorities say about 230 people have been detained while an estimated 3,200 people are stuck in New Caledonia or unable to return to the archipelago, which lies more than 1,000 kilometres east of Australia.

Attal is considering extending the state of emergency under which the curfew was imposed and TikTok banned beyond its initial 12 days.

That would require the approval of both houses in the French parliament.

New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s.

Almost two centuries on, its politics remain dominated by debate about whether the islands should be part of France, autonomous or independent with opinions split roughly along ethnic lines.

Indigenous Kanaks make up about 40 percent of the population but tend to be poorer.

Kanak groups say the latest voting regulations would dilute their vote.

Civil liberties groups have challenged the TikTok ban, with a hearing scheduled at France's top administrative court in Paris for Tuesday.

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This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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