Three dead in New Caledonia amid continuing unrest, president’s office says

Three people have now died in New Caledonia as the death toll rises amid escalating unrest.

Charles Wea, a spokesperson for international relations in the president’s office, confirmed the deaths to RNZ Pacific.

He said it was a drive by shooting by “French people” not Kanak melanesian people. Many more were injured and in hospital, he said, adding that the situation was “very, very difficult”.

A number of shops have been burned. All schools, shops and government services had been closed in the capital, Nouméa. A resident in the city, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “every single side street has been barricaded – they are actually going quite insane, everyone is very precautious, they are blocking everything, putting random stuff that they have at home, pieces of plasterboard, beams, metal barriers”.

Power cuts and patchy internet is scaring some residents and there are reports of food supplies being low at some hotels.

It is the French territory’s third day of violence.

Burnt cars are pictured at a car dealer store in the Magenta district in Noumea on May 14, 2024, amid protests linked to a debate on a constitutional bill aimed at enlarging the electorate for upcoming elections of the overseas French territory of New Caledonia.

France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said hundreds of people had been injured in rioting, Reuters reported.

French High Commissioner Louis Le Franc said, at a media conference, “I sense dark hours have arrived in New Caledonia”.

“So what we must remember from what I am going to tell you is a call for calm, stop, stop.

“Stop what has been started… It’s not hundreds of aggressors, it’s thousands. I say to the rioters ‘have the courage to say it’s finished, return to calm’.”

When asked whether a state of emergency has been declared, Le Franc did not answer the question directly. “What is important is to respect the curfew, it is not to go into armed confrontations, it is not to burn businesses, pharmacies, schools, dispensaries, medical centres.

“There are armed groups on both sides who, if this call for calm is not heard, are going to kill people… Stop and go home.

“There are medical centres that I saw on fire, incredible. They’re there to save lives, to help people in difficulty. Who could do that?

“The alternative is to plunge New Caledonia into misery.”

He would call on military forces for assistance on Thursday, if necessary, he said.

It follows France sending in more than 600 reinforcements to back up local police. Wea said there were 300-400 more arriving on Wednesday evening from France.

The reinforcements would add to the police and specialists, Le Franc said. Sixty or more police had been injured by projectiles, he said.

He warned that “no-one should take themselves to the airport, if they do it is putting their life at risk, I cannot be more clear”.

French Gendarmerie stand with their shields at the entrance of the Vallee-du-Tir district, in Noumea on May 14, 2024, amid protests linked to a debate on a constitutional bill aimed at enlarging the electorate for upcoming elections of the overseas French territory of New Caledonia.

More than 130 people have been arrested and fears are turning to how these people will be detained, with the prison population already at capacity.

Local journalist Coralie Cochin told RNZ a curfew had been announced for Wednesday evening starting at 6pm local time.

French President Emmanuel Macron has cancelled a planned visit to Normandy to chair a defence and national security meeting on the New Caledonia crisis, the French Presidency said.

‘We could hear gunshots. We heard explosions’

A New Zealander holidaying in New Caledonia earlier told RNZ residents in the territory believed the situation could get worse.

Mike Lightfoot and his family are stuck in New Caledonia until at least Friday after the government imposed curfews and a drinking ban to try to quell protests.

The violence was provoked by a proposal by France which would allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years, to vote in provincial elections – a move local leaders fear will dilute the vote of the indigenous population.

Lightfoot said the situation seemed peaceful as his family returned from a beach north of Nouméa, but the number of protests escalated as they entered the capital. Intersections were blocked and some on fire. There were riot police throughout the city.

He and his wife had to leave the hotel at night to find a doctor after she developed a chest infection.

“It was a frightening experience. We could hear gunshots. We heard explosions.”

They had to drive through a roundabout on fire, blocked by 150 protesters.

Lightfoot said locals and staff in the hotel had told them they believed protests could escalate with the presence of more riot police and latest moves from France.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has upgraded SafeTravel level to 2 for metropolitan Nouméa and the airport road, saying New Zealanders should avoid demonstrations and protests as they have the potential to turn violent with little warning.

The level remains at 1 for the rest of New Caledonia.

– RNZ / Reuters

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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