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New Caledonia protests lead to state of emergency

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A state of emergency has been declared in New Caledonia after a series of violent protests resulted in almost 200 arrests, dozens of injuries, and at least three deaths.
A state of emergency has been declared in New Caledonia after a series of violent protests resulted in almost 200 arrests, dozens of injuries, and at least three deaths.

A state of emergency has been declared in New Caledonia after a series of violent protests resulted in almost 200 arrests, dozens of injuries, and at least three deaths.

New Caledonia is a French territory in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,500 kilometres east of Queensland.

The public unrest is in response to changes to local voting rules.

New Caledonia

France has had control over New Caledonia since the 1850s. Citizens can vote in territorial elections and French national elections. The New Caledonian political system deals with local matters, and issues like defence and foreign security are managed by the French Government.

Calls for independence from France have caused tensions and social inequality in New Caledonia for decades. Following a deadly conflict in the 1980s between pro-independence forces and the French Government, an agreement was made that only people who were born in New Caledonia or had lived there for a long time could vote in elections.

Protests

On Wednesday, the French lower house passed a bill to allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in local elections. It still needs final approval from both houses.

This has caused significant backlash from the local community. There is concern among some Indigenous Kanak people, who make up about 40% of the population, that the measure will dilute their influence and expand French authority.

Schools and businesses have been damaged, roads have been blocked, and an attempted prison break has occurred.

State of emergency

After three consecutive nights of unrest, authorities declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

This accompanied a curfew in the capital, Nouméa, and a territory-wide ban on carrying weapons and selling alcohol.

Military and security reinforcements are being deployed to New Caledonia to assist with law enforcement efforts. The international airport was closed and schools were shut. Over 60 police officers and soldiers have been injured, while two soldiers have died.

What happens next?

The French Government has suggested it could delay the implementation of the electoral reforms, in hopes this will help restore order.

The main pro-independence group in New Caledonia, the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), has also called for calm.

FLNKS denounced the public unrest that had occurred since Monday, but affirmed its desire for the electoral reforms to be withdrawn. They also called for the removal of roadblocks stopping the flow of essential items.

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