Three dead in New Caledonia amid independence, electoral unrest

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A fire at the height of the Noumea protests over the planned French electoral changes making indigenous Kanaks more marginalised
A fire at the height of the Noumea protests over the planned French electoral changes making indigenous Kanaks more marginalised. Image: NC La Première TV screenshot APR

Three people have now died in New Caledonia in the wake of pro-independence protests and escalating unrest.

Charles Wea, a spokesperson for international relations in the New Caledonian territorial President’s office, confirmed the deaths to RNZ Pacific.

The circumstances are unclear in the French territory’s third day of violence.

France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said hundreds of people had been injured in rioting, Reuters reported.

French High Commissioner Louis Le Franc said: “I sense dark hours have arrived in New Caledonia.”

“So what we must remember from what I am going to tell you is a call for calm — stop, stop.

“Stop what has been started.”

Security forces bolstered
This follows France sending in more than 600 reinforcements to back up local police.

More than 130 people have been arrested and fears are turning to how these people will be detained, with the prison population already at capacity.

Local journalist Coralie Cochin told RNZ another curfew had been announced for this evening starting at 6pm local time.

A New Zealander holidaying in New Caledonia earlier told RNZ residents in the territory believed the situation could get worse.

Mike Lightfoot and his family are stuck in New Caledonia until at least Friday after the government imposed curfews and a drinking ban to try to quell protests.

The violence was provoked by a proposal by France which would allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years, to vote in provincial elections — a move local pro-independence leaders fear will dilute the vote of the indigenous Kanak population.

Lightfoot said the situation seemed peaceful as his family returned from a beach north of Nouméa, but the number of protests escalated as they entered the capital.

‘Frightening — gunshots, explosions’
Intersections were blocked and some were on fire. There were riot police throughout the city.

He and his wife had to leave the hotel at night to find a doctor after she developed a chest infection.

“It was a frightening experience. We could hear gunshots. We heard explosions.”

They had to drive through a roundabout on fire, blocked by 150 protesters.

Lightfoot said locals and staff in the hotel had told them they believed protests could escalate with the presence of more riot police and latest moves from France.

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