French President Emmanuel Macron lifts state of emergency in New Caledonia ‘for the time being’

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced the 12-day state of emergency imposed in New Caledonia on 15 May would not be extended “for the time being”.

The decision not to renew the state of emergency was mainly designed to “allow the components of FLNKS (pro-independence movement) to hold meetings and to be able to go to the roadblocks and ask for them to be lifted”, Macron said in a release late Sunday.

The state of emergency would officially end at 5am on Tuesday, 28 May (Nouméa time).

It was imposed after deadly and destructive riots erupted in the French Pacific archipelago with a backdrop of ongoing protests against proposed changes to the French Constitution, that would allow citizens having resided there for at least 10 years to take part in local elections.

Pro-independence parties feared the opening of conditions of eligibility would significantly weaken the indigenous Kanak population’s political representation.

During a 17-hour visit to New Caledonia on Thursday last week, Macron set the lifting of blockades as the precondition to the resumption of “concrete and serious” political talks regarding New Caledonia’s long-term political future.

The talks were needed in order to find a successor agreement, including all parties (pro-independence and ‘loyalists’ or pro-France), to the Nouméa Accord signed in 1998.

Attempts to hold these talks, over the past two-and-a-half years, had so far failed.

Not renewing the state of emergency would also put an end to restriction on movements and a number of house arrests placed on several pro-independence radical leaders (including Christian Téin, the leader of a so-called CCAT [Field Action Coordination Committee], close to the more radical fringe of FLNKS).

The CCAT is regarded as the main organiser of the protests which led to ongoing unrest.

In a speech published on social networks on Friday after Macron’s visit, Téin called for the easing of security measures to allow him to speak to militants, but in the same breath assured the intention was to “remain mobilised and maintain resistance”.

Since they broke out on 13 May, the riots have caused seven deaths, hundreds of injuries and estimated damage of almost €1 billion to the local economy. Up to 500 companies, business and retail stores had also been looted or destroyed by arson.

Following Macron’s visit last week, a ‘mission’ consisting of three high-level public servants has remained in New Caledonia to foster a resumption of political dialogue between leaders of all parties.

More reinforcements

In the same announcement, the French presidential office said a fresh contingent of “seven additional gendarmes’ mobile forces units, for a total of 480” will be flown to New Caledonia “within the coming hours”.

Macron said this would bring the number of security forces in New Caledonia to 3500.

He once again condemned the blockades and looting, saying “this violence cannot pretend to represent a legitimate political action”.

In parallel to the lifting of the state of emergency, a dusk-to-dawn curfew remained in force.

On the ground, mainly in Nouméa and its outskirts, security operations were ongoing, with several neighbourhoods and main access roads still blocked and controlled by pockets of rioters.

At the weekend, intrusions from groups of rioters forced French forces to evacuate some 30 residents (mostly of European descent) some of whose houses had been set on fire.

Meanwhile, the international Nouméa-La Tontouta airport would remain closed to all commercial flights until 2 June, it was announced on Monday. The airport, which remained cut off from the capital Nouméa due to pro-independence roadblocks, has been closed for the past three weeks.

French delegate minister for Overseas Marie Guévenoux, who arrived with Macron last week and has remained in New Caledonia since, assured on Sunday the situation in Nouméa and its outskirts was “improving”.

“Police and gendarmes are slowly regaining ground… The (French) state will regain all of these neighbourhoods,” she told France Television.

  • French President Emmanuel Macron ends day of political talks with pro-France, pro-independence parties
  • French President says ‘peace, calm and security’ in New Caledonia ‘priority of all priorities’
  • New Caledonia unrest rocks French politics as leaders plead for end to division
  • Home detention for New Caledonia unrest ringleaders, TikTok banned
  • According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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