France

‘Dark hours lie ahead’: Australian government issues travel warning over New Caledonia protests

Author: Editors Desk Source: News Corp Australia Network:
May 15, 2024 at 06:49

Australians travelling to New Caledonia are being warned to exercise a high degree of caution as political demonstrations and protests against constitutional reform erupt in the French territory.

Three people have been killed, and hundreds injured in the violent riots, a spokesperson for New Caledonia President Louis Mapou said.

The protests eruptedon Monday night in response to a vote in France’s Assemblée Nationale to allow French citizens who have been residents of New Caledonia for 10 years voting rights.

The reform, which lawmakers argued was democratically fair, was passed 351 to 153.

Protestors have argued the legislation will minimise the voting power of the indigenous Kanak people, who make up about 40 per cent of the country’s 300,000 citizens.

All three of the dead were young indigenous Kanak people. One was shot dead, local reports indicate it was by an act of alleged self-defence, and not the actions of law enforcement.

The Australian government’s Smart Traveller website increased its level of advice for the Noumea metropolitan area, advising a high degree of caution due to protests and demonstrations.

 

The Australian government says New Caledonia’s main international airport is closed. Picture: Theo Rouby / AFP
The Australian government says New Caledonia’s main international airport is closed. Picture: Theo Rouby / AFP
 
“Political demonstrations and protests are occurring and may turn violent at short notice,” the website read.

The office of the high commissioner, France’s top representative in New Caledonia, said one death was caused by gunshot wounds linked to the protests, but gave no details on the second.Violence has also been reported in the commune of Paita.

A curfew was issued for the Noumea metropolitan area from 6pm on Tuesday until 6am on Wednesday, and the Australian government warned there was the potential for demonstrations in other locations.

The Noumea curfew also came with a ban on public gatherings, but local authorities warned that protest action had continued despite the crackdown, with authorities reporting a jail break attempt at Noumea Prison the day following.

“Essential services are impacted and flights have been cancelled,” the Smart Traveller website read.

“The La Tontouta International Airport has closed.

“Avoid demonstrations, public gatherings and roadblocks.

“Minimise movement, monitor the media and follow the advice of local authorities.”

The French Interior Minister has said hundreds of people and about 100 police officers had been injured.

Authorities place the arrest count at 130 since Monday.

French President Emmanuel Macron has convened a defence and national security council meeting to discuss the riots.

He was previously slated to travel to Normandy.

 

The Australian government says essential services are impacted. Picture: Theo Rouby / AFP
The Australian government says essential services are impacted. Picture: Theo Rouby / AFP
 

France’s High Commissioner of the Republic in New Caledonia Louis Le Franc warned of further bloodshed if peace could not be maintained.

“This needs to stop now. We already have one person dead, but if we don’t stop now, it will be carnage,” Mr Le France said.

“I fear for New Caledonia, dark hours lie ahead.”

On Wednesday, Anthony Albanese said Australia valued its relationship with both New Caledonia and the French State.

“We respect and support the process and the discussions under way between all parties,” the Prime Minister said.

New Caledonia’s status as a french territory has been a consistent source of political friction, but the ongoing protests represent the largest scale of unrest since the pro-independence rallies of the 1980s.

The Territory’s 1998 Noumea Accord was introduced to transition the country towards greater autonomy by providing voting rights only to the population of the time and restricting the political influence of new French immigrants.

This most recent legislation grants French expatriates greater voting power.

About 40,000 French Citizens are estimated to have emigrated to New Caledonia in the 26 years since the Noumea Accord.

As a part of the Accord, New Caledonia held three referendums to determine the country’s political future.

Each of these referendums — held in 2018, 2020 and 2021 — offered voters the choice of independence.

Self-determination was voted down in each case.

The final referendum was boycotted by pro-independence parties in 2021.

“We are closely monitoring the situation in New Caledonia. Australia values our relationship with both New Caledonia and the French State,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said.

“We respect and support the referendum process under the Nouméa Accord and the discussions underway.

“We encourage all parties to work together constructively to shape New Caledonia’s institutional future.”

While New Caledonia is semi-independent, France still maintains sovereign control in regards to defence, foreign affairs, the courts, and economic policy.

France has deployed four gendarmerie squadrons, a form of french paramilitary enforcer.

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