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Further riots in France’s New Caledonia, second police officer killed

dpa international

The French Pacific territory of New Caledonia was rocked by riots for a third night in a row after France’s National Assembly approved contentious voting reforms which angered independence supporters.

Five people, including two police officers, have died so far in the unrest, while hundreds of others have been injured.

France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said one police officer died on Thursday as a result of “an accidental shot,” broadcaster France Info reported.

The main airport remained closed. The largest hospital announced that it was treating mainly only emergency cases. However, due to road blockades, many patients had problems reaching the hospital at all.

Local media published photographs and videos of destroyed supermarkets and petrol stations, which had been looted. Fires set off by pro-independence protesters were still being reported in shops, shopping centres and car parks.

Since the start of the riots in the territory of 270,000 residents, 206 people have been arrested, Darmanin told broadcaster France 2.

“Calm is being restored,” he said, adding that additional police officers would be deployed to New Caledonia and the military would also be there to provide support only.

“There will be no army on the streets of New Caledonia,” he said.

Darmanin also accused Azerbaijan of meddling. According to French media reports, Azerbaijan is backing independence supporters in New Caledonia as part of the Baku Initiative Group.

Demonstrators in New Caledonia have displayed Azerbaijani flags and worn shirts with slogans of the Azerbaijani organization. Baku is retaliating against France’s support for Armenia in the conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

In response to the violence in the archipelago in the South Pacific, Paris declared a state of emergency on Wednesday for 12 days.

Declaring a state of emergency makes it easier for authorities to impose curfews and ban demonstrations, among other actions.

The High Commission in New Caledonia said that around 5,000 rioters were involved in the unrest in the greater Nouméa area around the capital. Despite curfews, the situation was not yet under control.

The riots began as France debated a bill to give thousands of French citizens in the territory the right to vote in provincial polls. The National Assembly in Paris then adopted the reform.

New Caledonia’s pro-independence movement fears the change will result in a weakening of political influence among the Indigenous Kanak people.

The grand council of Kanaks – Inaat Ne Kanaky – condemned “the unjustified vandalism and violence involving the use of firearms on public streets” and called for the arrest of those responsible.

At the same time, the council regretted that the French government had adopted the constitutional reform without taking into account the resistance of the vast majority of the indigenous population.

For Paris, New Caledonia is important militarily and for its nickel.

The territory, located 1,200 kilometres east of Australia, has gained extensive autonomy through the so-called Nouméa Agreement after being a French colony from 1853 to 1946.

Residents voted to remain part of France in three referendums on independence held in 2018, 2020 and 2021. The independence movement boycotted the last vote, saying it would not accept the result.

Long queues of worried citizens formed outside many shops because food was already being rationed, the 1ère Nouvelle-Calédonie radio station reported. Some petrol stations had also run out of petrol.

The president of the local assembly in New Caledonia’s Southern Province, Sonia Backès, asked Paris for financial support.

“Our territory has been in the grip of unprecedented violence for 72 hours,” Backès, a prominent activist in favour of remaining part of France, wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.

The initial damage to New Caledonia’s economy is estimated by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry at €150 million ($163 million).

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