France strives to regain control of violent unrest in New Caledonia

  • France intends to regain full control of events in New Caledonia “in the coming hours”, according to Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
  • Violence has erupted over a controversial electoral reform bill allowing long-term French residents to vote in provincial elections.
  • The situation escalated to become extremely violent, with the opposition and neighboring Pacific countries criticizing France.

France hopes to regain full control of events in New Caledonia “in the coming hours”, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin declared on Thursday, after a third night of riots which left four dead against a backdrop of anger against a electoral reform contested.

Rioters burned businesses, torched cars and looted stores, and road barricades erected by protesters caused a “disastrous situation” for access to medicine and food on the French-ruled Pacific island, they said. authorities said.

France declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia, which came into effect on Wednesday, and subsequently placed at least 10 people under house arrest and banned TikTok.


“Sending significant reinforcements by air will allow a return to order and guarantee the availability of essential goods on the island,” declared Prime Minister Gabriel Attal.

Damaged building

A damaged building is seen as rioters protest against plans to allow more people to participate in local elections in the French-ruled territory, which indigenous Kanak demonstrators reject, in Nouméa, New Caledonia, on 15 May 2024.

Riots have broken out over a new bill, passed by lawmakers in Paris on Tuesday, that will allow French residents living in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections – a move that some local leaders fear will dilute the indigenous Kanak vote.

“Everything is burning, people literally have no limits, because they are literally shooting at each other. I have never seen so much violence,” said Olivia Iloa, a student in New Caledonia.

Electoral reform is the latest flashpoint in a decades-long fight over France's role in the mineral-rich southwest Pacific island, about 1,500 km (930 miles) to the east from Australia.


French President Emmanuel Macron's government has faced harsh criticism from the opposition and former prime ministers, who say they should not have pursued reform.

New Caledonia's Pacific neighbors also called for a return to dialogue and a reversal of the reform.

“These events could have been avoided if the French government had listened,” said Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, chairman of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, which also includes Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the situation was “very concerning in the Pacific Islands region”.

The French government claims to have always been open to dialogue and wishes to meet soon with independence and anti-independence leaders in Paris. This opens the door to the suspension of the reform project if a new agreement is quickly found on the future of the island.

France annexed New Caledonia in 1853 and gave the colony the status of overseas territory in 1946. New Caledonia is the world's third largest producer of nickel, but one in five inhabitants lives below the threshold of poverty.


The protests were organized by the Field Action Coordination Cell (CCAT), which was condemned on Thursday by French High Commissioner Louis Le Franc, who made a distinction between the organization and the main pro-independence political party, the FLNKS, which called for calm.

The armed forces are protecting the two airports and the port of New Caledonia, he explained, adding that the main and secondary roads of Nouméa were blocked by barricades of burning cars and car wrecks, some equipped with booby traps. .


Clashes also took place during the night between members of the CCAT and self-defense groups who also do not respect the curfew and the ban on weapons, he explained.

Darmanin said the number of police and gendarmes in New Caledonia would increase from 1,700 to 2,700 by Friday evening, with the assistance of a small number of soldiers.

A CCAT representative said he did not know who was under house arrest.

Three young Kanaks died in the riots and a 22-year-old police officer died after being shot in the head while speaking to protesters, Darmanin said. Another gendarme died in an accidental shooting while preparing to deploy, the Interior Ministry said.

Yoan Fleurot, a resident of Nouméa, said he witnessed looting and destruction of property. Some merchants are happy to allow their shelves to be looted, pleading so that their stores are not destroyed.

“The truth is that at night you can’t even try to go out,” he said. “Caledonia will have difficulty recovering from this crisis.”


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