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New Caledonia Unrest Continues Amid Massive French Security Operation

French President Emmanuel Macron is flying to New Caledonia today in a direct attempt to shut down riots and unrest that have enveloped the colony for the past eight days.

Macron said the main objective was to “install” a “dialogue mission” to resume political talks with all stakeholders and find a “political solution” to the crisis. Macron’s spokesperson Prisca Thévenot said a “return to order” was a preliminary condition for any talks.

The French Pacific territory has entered a second week of unrest despite the imposition of an emergency decree by Macron last Wednesday. Rioting, largely by indigenous Kanak youth, has devastated the island’s capital, Nouméa. By Friday five people, three young Kanaks and two gendarmes, had been killed.

The rioting erupted as the French National Assembly pushed through a constitutional amendment to allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years since 1998 the right to vote in provincial elections and for the 54-member Congress. The move is opposed by pro-independence leaders who claim it will dilute the vote of indigenous Kanaks, who make up over 40 percent of the population.

The protests, involving thousands of Kanaks, have been met with fierce repression from the French state and been confronted with armed pro-France vigilante groups. So far 230 people have been arrested. The 12-day state of emergency gives authorities extensive powers to ban gatherings, impose travel bans, and conduct house arrests and searches.

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A contingent of 1,000 French police and army reinforcements arrived on Friday, bringing armed security personnel to 2,700, including riot and crowd control squads.

Over the weekend, the media reported an “uneasy calm” had settled over Nouméa’s suburbs, where scenes of violence, arson and confrontation had continued throughout Friday. Despite the military-police crackdown, however, enforcement agencies still had not regained control of the capital’s central districts, with fires and other damage occurring overnight Saturday.

France’s High Commissioner Louis Le Franc claimed: “With massive reinforcement, we will soon be able to regain control of these areas.” But Nouméa’s mayor, Sonia Lagarde, said while overnight violence had eased due to a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, “we are far from a return to normal.” “The situation is not improving—quite the contrary—despite all the appeals for calm,” she said, adding that Nouméa was “under siege.”

By John Braddock, Socialist Equality Group. Originally published here.

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