New Caledonia ‘under siege’ from riots – capital’s mayor

image source, Good pictures

  • author, Christy Cooney
  • stock, BBC News

New Caledonia’s Pacific territory is “under siege”, the mayor of its capital has said following days of rioting in which six people were killed.

Nouméa Mayor Sonia Lagarde said scores of public buildings on the archipelago had been set on fire and that despite the arrival of hundreds of police reinforcements, the situation was “far from returning to calm”.

French gendarmes have launched a major operation to regain control of the 60km (37-mile) road between Nouméa and the airport, France’s interior minister said.

The unrest began last week after lawmakers in Paris voted through changes to allow more French residents to vote in local elections, a move indigenous leaders say will dilute the political influence of indigenous peoples.

A sixth person was killed and two others wounded during a gunfight at a makeshift roadblock in the north of the territory on Saturday, officials said.

Three tribal Kanak residents aged between 17 and 36 and two police officers were earlier confirmed killed.

Images from the area showed rows of burned cars, makeshift roadblocks and long lines of people outside supermarkets.

Officials have declared a state of emergency with a night curfew and a ban on public gatherings, sale of alcohol and carrying of weapons.

speaks French news channel BFMTVMs Lagarde said the last two nights had been quiet, but the situation had not improved during the day.

He said it was “impossible” to quantify the damage already done but that the burned buildings included municipal buildings, libraries and schools.

“Can we say we are in a besieged city? Yes, I think we can say that,” she said. “It’s desolation.”

He added that security forces “need some time” to secure the situation.

Residents reported hearing gunshots, helicopters and “massive explosions” believed to be exploding gas canisters inside the burning building.

Helen, 42, who guards temporary barricades in shifts with neighbors, told AFP: “At night we hear gunshots and things happening.”

The AFP news agency reported that Noumea’s international airport was closed due to security concerns, leaving some 3,200 tourists and other travelers stranded either in or out of the archipelago.

Tourists inside the territory have described their need for rations while they wait for passage.

Joanne Elias, from Australia, said she was asked to fill the bathtub when the water ran out at a resort in Noumea with her husband and four children.

“The children are definitely hungry because we don’t have much choice in what we can feed them,” he said.

“We don’t know how long we’re going to be here.”

On Sunday, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement that his country’s defense forces had “completed preparations” for flights “to bring home New Zealanders in New Caledonia while commercial services are down”.

The unrest has also renewed diplomatic tensions between France and Azerbaijan, which grew following Azerbaijan’s annexation of the Nagorno-Karabakh region last year.

The region, which has an Armenian majority but lies within Azerbaijan, has been the subject of a long-running dispute over France’s support for Armenia.

On Friday, Viginum, a French government agency that monitors foreign digital interference, said it had uncovered a “massive and coordinated” online campaign in which French police officers allegedly shot dead pro-independence demonstrators in New Caledonia.

The government accused “Azerbaijani actors” of involvement in the campaign, although Azerbaijan’s government has denied the claims.

Social media app TikTok is now blocked in the region.

New Caledonia held three referendums on independence. The first two showed slim majorities for the rest of France.

A third was boycotted by pro-independence parties as authorities refused to postpone the vote due to the Covid pandemic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *