France: Three dead and "hundreds" injured in riots in the territory of New Caledonia

According to the French authorities, 140 people have been arrested in the area of ​​Noumea alone, the most important city in the region.

(AFP/Voz Media) Three people have died and "hundreds" more have been injured in the French territory of New Caledonia, which has been experiencing unrest since Monday in the midst of protests by independence supporters against a reform of the electoral roll, the authorities reported this Wednesday.

After a second night of riots, the office of the High Commissioner - representative of the State of France - Louis le Franc, reported three people have died, without specifying the circumstances of the deaths.

"Hundreds" more people have been injured, including a "hundred" police and gendarmes, added the French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin.

The protests began on Monday when the National Assembly, the French chamber of deputies, began to debate in Paris the reform of the electoral roll, finally approved on Wednesday shortly after midnight. The Senate had already given its approval.

Currently, only voters registered in 1998 and their descendants can participate in provincial elections in this oceanic territory of 270,000 inhabitants.

The native independentists consider that the expansion of the census will lead to "further minoritizing the Kanak people" in the provincial institutions, which have extensive powers transferred by Paris.

After a first night of serious unrest, with fires, looting and shots fired at police, the territory's authorities imposed a curfew, banned public gatherings, closed schools and the main airport.

However, "serious public order problems continue" with "fires and looting of businesses, infrastructure and public establishments, including several schools and colleges," the High Commissioner admitted on Wednesday.

"I´ll let you imagine what would happen if the militias start shooting at armed people," said Le Franc, who spoke of an "insurrectional" situation in the archipelago.

The state representative reported a total of 140 arrests only in the area of ​​Noumea, the most important city in the territory.

The president of France calls for "calm"

The protests did not stop the parliamentary procedure in Paris, but, as it is a constitutional reform, it must also be submitted to the vote of both chambers jointly and obtain more than 60% support to be definitively approved.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he will convene this session "before the end of June" unless New Caledonian independence supporters and those in favor of remaining in France approve an alternative reform.

In a letter, Macron condemned "the undignified and unacceptable character" of these riots and urged local representatives to "condemn all violence unambiguously and call for calm."

The right-wing opposition demanded to declare a state of emergency, to which Macron finally agreed on Wednesday afternoon and which was exemplified by the press release that appeared on the French government website :

The President of the Republic requested that the decree aimed at declaring a state of emergency in New Caledonia be included in the agenda of the Council of Ministers that will meet at 4:30 pm

Located about 1,200 kilometers east of the coast of Australia, this archipelago is one of the many overseas territories that France has scattered in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean.

Thanks to the Nouméa agreement of 1998, Paris delegated more political power to New Caledonia and even allowed three referendums to be held, all of which were decided against independence.

The Kanak natives boycotted the last one, held in 2021, as it was celebrated during the covid pandemic.

The Nouméa agreement also froze the census for the provincial elections in this territory, in which almost 20% of voters cannot vote.

Considering the provision "absurd" and contrary to democratic principles, the French government proposed a constitutional reform to include people established in New Caledonia for at least ten years.

Kanak independentists fear that this expansion will benefit the parties related to Paris and reduce their influence.

The leader of the pro-independence party, Daniel Gao, condemned the looting and called on young people to "go back home."

But he warned: "The riots of the last 24 hours show the determination of our young people not to let France control them."