May 19, 2024
New Caledonia: Constitutional Crisis

New Caledonia: Constitutional Crisis

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New Caledonia: Violence and State of Emergency Declared Amid Opposition to Constitutional Changes

The proposed changes to the constitution in the French territory of New Caledonia sparked continued violent protests on the third night. According to these changes, non-indigenous residents of the island group would be given voting rights.

New Caledonia: Constitutional Crisis
New Caledonia: Constitutional Crisis

As depicted in French TV reports, there were instances of looting and arson in New Caledonia, with civilians, some armed with guns and machetes, clashing with the police in the riots. Several fires broke out in the capital, Nouméa.

According to French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, the violence has claimed at least four lives, including a police officer who was shot in the head. Citizens set up roadblocks and formed militias to protect their neighborhoods. Many residents of Nouméa have barricaded themselves behind closed doors and are hiding in their homes.

High Commissioner of New Caledonia, Louis Le Franc, called for peace with loyalist and pro-independence citizens. He told French TV, “We are now in a dangerous, deadly spiral. If the violence does not stop, there will be many more deaths.”

New Caledonia: Constitutional Crisis
New Caledonia: Constitutional Crisis

This struggle for independence is crucial for France as European countries vie for strategic dominance in the Indo-Pacific region.

Political tensions in the archipelago have been simmering for many years, with a significant portion of the island advocating for permanent separation of Kanak indigenous communities from France.

France annexed the archipelago in 1853. Tensions escalated in the 1980s, resulting in the deaths of 19 pro-independence activists and two gendarmes. This eventually led to the Nouméa Accord in 1998, in which France promised greater political autonomy to the Kanak community.

Since 2018, there have been three failed referendums for independence. However, there has been an increase in favor of independence—reaching up to 47% in 2020. Kanak voters boycotted the 2021 referendum.

France declared a state of emergency in the territory of New Caledonia on Wednesday following violent clashes in the aftermath of elections without substantive electoral reforms.

New Caledonia: Constitutional Crisis
New Caledonia: Constitutional Crisis

The state of emergency, effective from 5 a.m. local time according to officials, grants authorities additional powers to curtail assemblies and prevent people from traveling to the French-administered island. Additional forces have been deployed to the police, with 500 additional officers sent to the island on top of the usual 1,800, after rioters set vehicles and commercial establishments ablaze and looted shops. Schools have been closed, and darkness already shrouds the capital.

Riots erupted over a new bill passed by Paris lawmakers on Tuesday, which will allow French residents to vote in provincial elections for up to 10 years in New Caledonia—a move some local politicians fear will dilute Kanak votes.

“No violence will be tolerated,” said Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, adding that the state of emergency “will allow us to use heavy means to restore order.”

He later signed an order to declare a state of emergency, which will last for 12 days, and announced that French soldiers would be deployed to secure New Caledonia’s main ports and airports.


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