July 21, 2024
Chicago 12, Melborne City, USA
Europe Politics

France Declares State of Emergency in New Caledonia

New Caledonia

France has declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia following violent protests against electoral reforms, which resulted in the deaths of one police officer and three others, according to the Washington Post. New Caledonia, a French overseas territory located off Australia’s eastern coast, has been a hotspot for tensions over Paris’ influence.

The recent violence, the worst in decades, has highlighted long-standing disputes over France’s role in the archipelago. Government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot called for calm and the resumption of political dialogue to address the unrest during a news briefing following a ministerial meeting. She also paid tribute to those who lost their lives.

The state of emergency was enacted at 8 pm Paris time (5 am in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia). Under French law, such a declaration is made in situations of imminent danger due to serious breaches of public order. It grants local authorities expanded powers, including restricting public access to certain areas and conducting searches to prevent threats to public safety.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office condemned the violence and promised a relentless response to restore order. French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal described the intensity of the violence as rare and stated that the state of emergency would allow the government to deploy substantial resources to re-establish order.

The unrest began on Monday as French lawmakers prepared to vote on expanding voting rights in New Caledonia, a move critics argue could marginalize the Indigenous Kanak population and favor pro-French politicians. Although the National Assembly adopted the revision, it still requires final approval from both parliamentary chambers.

The Kanak people, who constitute about 40% of New Caledonia’s 300,000 population, have long sought independence, while descendants of European colonizers wish to remain part of France. The 1998 Noumea Accord restricted voting to Kanaks and individuals born before 1998, but the new measure allows anyone residing in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote, diluting Kanak political power.

French Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories Gerald Darmanin reported significant injuries, including about 100 police officers, and extensive damage from attacks on barracks and property. Over 130 arrests were made amid incidents of arson, looting, and an attempted prison break.

In response, France has deployed additional police officers and gendarmes, imposed an overnight curfew, and banned gatherings in Noumea. La Tontouta International Airport is also closed to commercial flights.

New Caledonia, annexed by France in 1853, has experienced ongoing tensions between the Kanaks and European descendants over independence. Despite provisions for three referendums in the Noumea Accord, all rejected independence, with the last vote in 2021 boycotted by pro-independence parties due to the pandemic.

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