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Montevideo, May 28th 2024 - 19:41 UTC

 

 

Rioting in French Overseas Territory over voting rights diluting indigenous Kanaks influence

Wednesday, May 15th 2024 - 16:40 UTC
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Some 200 often armed youths seemed to be leading the violence targeting police with warnings officers would eventually be forced to return fire unless this ceased. Some 200 often armed youths seemed to be leading the violence targeting police with warnings officers would eventually be forced to return fire unless this ceased.

The government of the French Overseas Territory of New Caledonia, to the east of Australia appealed to security forces and issued a 12-hour overnight curfew for Tuesday night following violent protests and rioting in the capital Noumea.

The international airport in Noumea was closed and all commercial flights canceled, while the New Caledonia high commission also announced a ban on public gatherings and the sale of alcohol, and said that schools and colleges were closed until further notice.

The head of the commission Louis Le Franc reported 36 arrests and “numerous injured” among security forces, but said there had been no serious civilian injuries in the “high intensity” disturbances the previous night.

He said a group of around 200 often armed youths seemed to be leading the violence targeting police and warned that officers would eventually be forced to return fire unless this ceased.

The cause of the unrest and violence has been the proposed changes to the voting system, which basically would enable migrants on the island territory, most of them from France, to vote. The disturbances began to pick up pace on Monday, a day ahead of a debate in France's National Assembly parliament on changes to the New Caledonian constitution.

The changes would enable more migrants in the territory to vote, which independence supporters fear will dilute the vote of the indigenous Kanak and its significant independence movement.

France wants to update a 1998 Noumea deal that helped end a decade of conflict by outlining a path to gradual autonomy and restricting voting rights for local elections to indigenous Kanak and to migrants who had been resident on the island before 1998.

More than a quarter of a century later, Paris plans to open voting rights to people who have been in the country for more than 10 years uninterrupted. Of the island's roughly 270,000 inhabitants, around 40,000 are thought to be French nationals unable to vote in local elections, a situation the government in Paris has called “absurd.”

“The unfreezing of the electoral roll for the sole local elections in New Caledonia is not just a political desire, it is a moral obligation for those who believe in democracy,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in the National Assembly when opening the debate on Monday.

All New Caledonian adult residents have full voting rights in French national elections, meanwhile.

But with President Louis Mapou, elected in 2021, New Caledonia has its first pro-independence Kanak leader. The 1998 deal with France charted a path towards greater sovereignty and eventual independence.

But three recent referendums — in 2018, 2020 and 2021 — ended with a vote in favor of remaining a French territory. The first two were close, with the winning side claiming roughly 57% and later 53%.

On a visit to the territory last year, French President Emmanuel Macron had said he wanted a revised constitutional status for New Caledonia to be implemented by early 2024.

Categories: Politics, International.

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