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French gendarme patrol at a roundabout in Noumea, New Caledonia PA
State of Emergency

New Caledonia: France deploys army, imposes curfew and bans TikTok in response to riots

The unrest erupted on Monday as protesters demonstrated against a constitutional reform being debated in the national assembly in Paris.

FRANCE HAS DEPLOYED troops, instituted a curfew and banned TikTok in its Pacific territory of New Caledonia, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has said, in a response to protest and unrest that has been growing since Monday.

A state of emergency has been declared, for at least 12 days, boosting police powers in an attempt to quell the unrest that has left four people dead and resulted in over 100 arrests. 

More than 300 people have been injured since Monday, when protests over voting changes pushed by Paris turned violent.

The situation escalated today with the deaths of four people, including one security services officer.

After a two-hour security meeting today with French President Emmanuel Macron and top ministers, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told parliament in Paris that the state of emergency would aim “to restore order in the shortest time possible.”

The airport is already closed to international flights.

“Soldiers from the armed forces have been deployed to secure the New Caledonia ports and the airport”, Attal told a crisis ministerial meeting in Paris.

The territory’s High Commissioner, Louis Le Franc, who had asked for troops, has “announced a curfew and banned TikTok”, Attal said.

The emergency measures will give authorities greater powers to enforce travel bans, conduct searches and detain people who are deemed a threat to public order.

France has sent 500 police officers to the South Pacific territory, which is part of the French state like other overseas territories such as Martinique and Reunion Island.

There have been decades of tensions on the archipelago, which lies about 2,000 km off the east coast of Australia, between Indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonisers who want to remain part of France.

Sources said that two radical pro-independence activists had been put under house arrest.

There have been reports of gun battles between civil defence groups and rioters.

Streets in the capital were pocked with the shells of burned-out cars and buildings, including a sports store and a large concrete climbing wall.

“Numerous arsons and pillaging of shops, infrastructure and public buildings – including primary and secondary schools – were carried out,” said the government in the territory.

Voting restrictions

The unrest erupted on Monday as protesters demonstrated against a constitutional reform being debated in the national assembly in Paris that aims to expand the electorate in the territory’s provincial elections.

France promised in the Noumea Accord of 1998 to gradually give more political power to the Pacific island territory of nearly 300,000 people.

Under the agreement, New Caledonia has held three referendums over its ties with France, all rejecting independence.

The pro-independence Indigenous Kanaks rejected the result of the last referendum held in December 2021, which they boycotted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Noumea Accord has also meant that New Caledonia’s voter lists have not been updated since 1998 – meaning that island residents who have arrived from mainland France or elsewhere anytime in the past 25 years do not have the right to take part in provincial polls.

The French government has branded the exclusion of one out of five people from voting as “absurd”, while separatists fear that expanding voter lists would benefit pro-France politicians and “further minimise the Indigenous Kanak people”.

During a visit to the territory last year, President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted a revised constitutional status for New Caledonia to be in place by the beginning of 2024.

Macron has been seeking to reassert his country’s influence in the Pacific region, where China and the United States are vying for control but France has territories such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

With reporting from AFP and Associated Press.

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