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Violent protests break out in New Caledonia as people ‘lose confidence’ in France

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The police station in Hienghene, a remote town on the Pacific island of New Caledonia, has been under lockdown for nearly three weeks. Dozens of protesters have blocked the entrances and exits of the station, taking turns standing guard outside. The reason for their protest is evident in the words written in chalk on the road: the names of three prominent French politicians, including the president, with the word “assassin” written next to them.

The standoff is an example of the current unstable stalemate in New Caledonia. protest Opposition to more than 170 years of French rule Last month it became violent Seven people were killed, dozens more were injured and businesses suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

France sent thousands of armed police to the semiautonomous region to quell the worst of the violence. French President Emmanuel Macron even made a surprise visit. Macron ordered a one-day state of emergency, banned the use of TikTok and closed the region’s main airport. Those restrictions have since been lifted and commercial flights are slowly resuming from a smaller airport near the capital, Noumea, although the region’s main airport remains closed.

Authorities continued to enforce a curfew and a ban on alcohol sales, while indigenous Kanak protesters set up roadblocks on the outskirts of Noumea and in remote towns such as Hienghene.

“We closed their doors and locked them there to show them what it feels like to be a Kanak boy in a jail in Noumea,” Hienghene protester Jonas Tein said of the town’s police station, which appeared to be resupplied through regular visits by a police helicopter. “We tried to stay calm,” he said, but the French police crackdown made him “want to have guns and do what they did in Noumea.”

New Caledonia has been strained by French rule since a civil war in the 1980s. The current unrest stems from a proposal by Macron to add thousands of French immigrants to New Caledonia’s voter roll. Macron has called the change a step toward full democracy in the region. But for many Kanaks, it’s a betrayal of decades-old peace deals. They also worry that the influx of new voters will make it impossible for New Caledonia to win independence in any future referendum.

New Caledonia and its rich nickel deposits have new strategic value for France in the Pacific, where China is increasingly vying for influence. French supporters argue that an independent New Caledonia would be easily manipulated by Beijing.

During a visit to New Caledonia, Macron announced he would delay the electoral roll proposal, after which Kanak leaders and some moderate French supporters urged him to withdraw it altogether.

“The only way to calm the situation is to remove the text of the constitutional amendment,” said Joël Tjibaou, who is helping lead the siege of the Hienghene police station. Tjibaou’s father was a prominent Kanak leader who was assassinated after negotiating an end to the region’s 1980s civil war.

Politicians from both pro-independence and loyalist factions in the region are working with a delegation of senior French civil servants to find a compromise to resolve the tensions, but participants have warned that progress will be slow.

“The state has supervision, but we have time,” Roch Wamytan, president of the pro-independence congress of New Caledonia, told local news media.

Pro-independence leaders have called for an end to the violence. Still, the unrest has left some white residents of New Caledonia worried about their future. Mining has made New Caledonia prosperous, but there are huge economic inequalities between whites and the Kanaks, who are now a minority in their homeland.

Nicolas Sougnac lives in the settlement of Koumac, north of Noumea. He said that while the protests have not led to violence in his town, they have cut off fuel supplies and made it difficult for people to get food. He said he felt he had been “kidnapped” and that the French government had “abandoned” him.

“What has happened in the last few weeks is that France has no future in New Caledonia unless it can come to some sort of agreement with the wishes of the New Caledonian independence movement,” said Adrian Muckle, a history professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. “It really highlights the ability of the independence movement to bring the region’s economy to a standstill.”

Much of the unrest has been centered around Noumea in southern New Caledonia. French authorities are investigating several incidents in previous weeks: some Kanak protesters were shot by unknown assailants; a video showed French police forcing a Kanak protester to kneel so an officer could kick him in the head; and a police officer of Kanak descent was reportedly harshly punished. Beating From members of the local French militia.

Two police officers were killed by protesters. Another 192 were injured, according to French authorities. Police leaders said protesters used gas canisters as weapons at roadblocks. One police officer was Injuried A man fell into a manhole that protesters had converted into a hidden booby trap. This week, there were reports of more shootings.

A spokesman for Louis Le Franc, France’s top official in New Caledonia, declined to comment.

The death toll from the current violence is far lower than that of the New Caledonian civil war. Still, “the scale of the destruction in Noumea is much greater,” Dr. Mukel said. “It’s a shock to many New Caledonians, who don’t know what to do in the short time they have. Many are seriously considering their future in New Caledonia.”

Lizzie Carboni, a writer in Noumea, is one of them. Armed police are stationed throughout her neighborhood. On Friday, a protester walked through her street, threatening to burn down residents’ homes. “I feel safe during the day,” said Ms. Carboni. “But at night, you can never be sure that someone won’t throw rocks at your windows.”

Ms Carboni is now trying to leave New Zealand. Last week, she attended an online seminar on immigration to New Zealand. She found more than 100 people on the call, most of whom looked New Caledonian.

“When I see how quickly chaos can happen, you never know what tomorrow is going to look like,” she said. “Confidence is gone.”

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