New Caledonia: State of emergency to be declared as riots rage in French Pacific territory

15 May 2024, 10:02 | Updated: 15 May 2024, 13:31

Emmanuel Macron will call for a "state of emergency" to be declared in New Caledonia as deadly rioting rages in the French territory.

The French president will make the request during a cabinet meeting today following violence across the archipelago in the South Pacific, his office said.

At least two people have been killed and more than 300 injured in the riots, as France's National Assembly approved controversial changes to voting rules in New Caledonia.

French authorities in the territory say more than 130 people have been arrested since Monday.

There have been decades of tensions between indigenous Kanak people seeking independence and descendants of colonisers who want to remain part of France.

The latest unrest started on Monday with a protest over France's efforts to expand voter lists.

The bill, approved by France's National Assembly, would allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections.

Critics fear it will benefit pro-France politicians on New Caledonia and further marginalise the Kanak people, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

Following the violence, Mr Macron cancelled a trip he had been planning to northwest France on Wednesday while he focused on the crisis.

On Tuesday, the French interior ministry sent police reinforcements to New Caledonia, which long served as a prison colony and now hosts a French military base.

The territory's top French official, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc, said if calm is not restored, there will be "many deaths" in the area of the capital Noumea.

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Clashes have continued around the capital despite a ban on gatherings and a curfew, while schools have been closed "until further notice" and the main airport La Tontoura "remains closed to commercial flights".

"The situation is not serious, it is very serious," Mr Le Franc said. "We have entered a dangerous spiral, a deadly spiral."