Macron heads to New Caledonia as tourists are evacuated after deadly riots

World

Emmanuel Macron is to visit New Caledonia following deadly riots in the French overseas territory.

The French president’s visit to the South Pacific archipelago follows reinforced security and emergency measures to bring the unrest under control.

Six people, including two police officers, have been killed in the violence, which erupted after protests over voting reforms being pushed through by Mr Macron‘s government.

The riots have left a trail of destruction with shops looted, cars burnt and road barricades restricting access to medicine, food, and Noumea’s international airport.

French government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot announced the visit – which required a shake-up of Mr Macron’s schedule. He had previously been scheduled to be in Normandy on Wednesday.

“He will go there tonight,” she said, after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday where the president announced he had decided to travel to New Caledonia himself.

Image:
Burnt cars on a road in Noumea, New Caledonia. Pic: @ericpaidjan/Reuters

An extra 1,000 personnel have been sent to the archipelago in addition to the 1,700 already deployed, after France imposed a state of emergency to tackle the unrest, which included a curfew and a ban on the social media app, TikTok.

“Faced with the outbreak of violence, the priority is the return of order to allow dialogue to resume in New Caledonia,” Ms Thevenot said.

“The return to calm is starting to arrive. The situation is not quite totally normalised, but the situation is improving.

“We are clear: Much remains to be done before the return to normal. The government is fully mobilised.”

A priority for French officials has been clearing the highway to the airport.

On Tuesday, Australia, and New Zealand, sent planes to the island to begin bringing home stranded citizens.

Image:
Australian defence force staff members assist people as they prepare to depart from Magenta Airport in Noumea. Pic: LAC Adam Abela/Royal Australian Airfare/AP

Image:
Australians and other tourists prepare to depart Noumea. Pic: LAC Adam Abela/Royal Australian Airfare/AP

Image:
Chris Salmon is greeted by his wife after arriving from New Caledonia into Brisbane International Airport, in Brisbane, Australia. Pic: AAP/AP

Australian foreign minister Penny Wong said Australia had received clearance from French authorities for two evacuation flights.

A Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules touched down in the capital Noumea. The plane can carry 124 passengers, according to the Defence Department.

“We continue to work on further flights,” Ms Wong said in a post on social media platform, X.

“New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a challenging few days – and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the government,” New Zealand’s foreign minister Winston Peters said.

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The New Zealand Herald reported a defence force plane had landed in Auckland with around 50 citizens evacuated from New Caledonia.

Around 3,200 people are waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia after commercial flights were cancelled last week due to the unrest, the local government has said.

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Trouble has flared over a proposed new law that will let French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years vote in provincial elections.

Some local leaders fear the move will dilute the indigenous Kanak vote.

It is the latest flashpoint in long-standing tensions over French rule of the mineral-producing Pacific archipelago, some 930 miles (1,500 km) east of Australia.

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

The island held three independence votes in three years from 2018 to 2021, with the closest in 2020 – a 53% to 47% result in favour of remaining.

The 2021 result was 96.5% in favour of remaining, following a boycott of the vote by pro-independence groups, including the indigenous Kanak population.

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