Curfew Imposed in New Caledonia after Violent Protests against Constitutional Change

The French Pacific territory of New Caledonia has descended into chaos as violent riots grip its main city, Noumea. What started as protests over a proposed constitutional reform escalated into a nightmare, with cars torched, shops vandalized, and shots fired at security forces.

Curfew Imposed in New Caledonia after Violent Protests against Constitutional Change

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The riots were ignited by a constitutional reform debated in Paris, to expand the electorate in New Caledonia’s provincial elections.

This proposed change is allowing French residents who have lived in the territory for a decade to vote, has sparked fears among indigenous Kanak leaders that it would dilute their political influence.

Protestors seized control of multiple roundabouts engaging in clashes with law enforcement. The streets of Noumea saw the violence with burnt-out cars and smoking debris obstructing traffic.

The proposed changes aim to expand the electorate for provincial elections sparking tensions between pro-independence campaigners and those supporting ties with France.

New Caledonia with a population of around 270,000, has a complex demographic makeup with a huge proportion being Melanesian Kanaks and descendants of European colonizers.

The violence erupted overnight on Monday coinciding with debates in the French Parliament regarding the voting law changes.

Protests escalated into unrest resulting in clashes between security forces and protestors in Noumea and surrounding areas.

High Commissioner Louis Le Franc reported property damage, including arson attacks on businesses and vehicles.

The unrest saw the injury of 54 security personnel, 48 arrests, and destruction of property with reports of 50 businesses and 200 vehicles being affected. The situation remained tense, with incidents of shots fired at security forces.

The proposed changes to voting laws aim to allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for a decade to participate in provincial elections.

Some people including local leaders and separatists, argue that this move would dilute the voting power of Indigenous Kanaks.

Authorities imposed a two-day curfew, banned gatherings, and closed the international airport in Noumea to quell the unrest. Police reinforcements were dispatched to the territory to restore order.

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New Zealand’s Foreign Minister postponed a scheduled visit to Noumea to allow authorities to focus on addressing the crisis.

President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to redefine France’s role in the Pacific region face challenges amid the turmoil in one of its overseas territories.

Hundreds of cars were set ablaze, and over 30 businesses, shops, and factories fell victim to arson. The fire brigade responded to nearly 1,500 distress calls, battling approximately 200 fires in a single night.

Thirty police officers sustained injuries during the clashes, while authorities made 36 arrests. There have been no reported fatalities as of yet.

A nighttime curfew was imposed, and public gatherings were banned. The French government deployed armed officers to maintain order.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin defended the proposed electoral changes as a democratic imperative but addressed the need for political consensus.

New Caledonia’s struggle for independence is rooted in its history. Annexed by France in 1853, the territory has struggled with questions of sovereignty for decades.

While the French government once played a mediating role, recent years have seen a shift towards a more assertive stance under President Macron.

President Macron’s geopolitical strategy in the Indo-Pacific region positions the territory as a crucial asset in countering China’s influence.

The quest for independence has been punctuated by three referendums since 2018, all failing to achieve the desired outcome for pro-independence activists.

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