Australians warned of New Caledonia dangers as airport closes

Australians warned of New Caledonia dangers as airport closes

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Australians are being warned to exercise a high degree of caution in New Caledonia after riots continued in the capital.

The French president’s office said the government is considering imposing a state of emergency in the Pacific territory after reports that at least two people were killed and three were seriously injured.

President Emmanuel Macron is understood to be convening a meeting of top ministers to discuss the spiralling violence.

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New Caledonia has announced a mass security mobilisation and a curfew for residents tonight after a protest turned into a violent riot in the country's capital overnight.

The nation’s La Tontouta International Airport remains closed to commercial flights after a referendum sparked riots in the country on Monday.

It has prompted Australia’s Smart Traveller to upgrade it’s advice for the Noumea metropolitan area to level two (of four levels) due to the protests and demonstrations.

Australians are advised to avoid demonstrations, public gatherings and roadblocks as the protests occur at short notice and could turn violent, it said.

It was the third day of violent unrest over a constitutional reform pushed by Paris that has roiled the archipelago, which has long sought independence.

New Caledonia has announced a mass security mobilisation and a curfew for residents tonight after a protest turned into a violent riot in the country's capital overnight.

French authorities in the territory said more than 130 people have been arrested and over 300 have been injured since Monday in the violence that has raged across the archipelago, where there have been decades of tensions between indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonisers who want to remain part of France.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) said it is keeping an eye on the nation, which is a popular place for holidays for Australians.

“We are closely monitoring the situation in New Caledonia,” DFAT said.

“Australia values our relationship with both New Caledonia and the French State.

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“We encourage all parties to work together constructively to shape New Caledonia’s institutional future.”

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Some flights from Australia have been cancelled as a result of the unrest.

Aircalin flight SB151 from Brisbane was due to land in the country at 11.15pm tonight was cancelled.

Qantas flight QF91 from Sydney was also cancelled.

New Caledonia has announced a mass security mobilisation and a curfew for residents tonight after a protest turned into a violent riot in the country's capital overnight.

While no cruise ships are expected to dock in Noumea (Grande Terre Island New Caledonia) this week.

Earlier the High Commission of the Republic in New Caledonia confirmed riots were still underway in Greater Nouméa despite a curfew.

“Numerous fires and looting of businesses, infrastructure and public establishments – including several schools and colleges – were perpetrated,” the High Commission said in a French statement, translated to English.

“More than 130 arrests took place and several dozen rioters were taken into custody and will be brought before the courts.”

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The commission said about 60 police officers had been injured but their “commitment and professionalism” was to be commended.

A new rebellion escape attempt also took place at their prison but it was controlled by security forces, the commission confirmed.

A curfew was put in place from 6pm to 6am yesterday and the same rules have been put in place until Thursday morning.

There is a ban on gatherings, selling alcohol and carrying weapons.

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“The population is asked to limit their movements during the day,” the commission said.

“Exceptions to the ban on movement during the curfew will be tolerated for compelling health reasons, medical emergencies and assistance to vulnerable people.”

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View over turquoise lagoon, south coast of Maré Island with beautiful natural rocky lagoon and coral reef to the horizon under sunny blue summer sky. Mare Island, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia, Pacific Ocean Islands.

Minister of Interior and Overseas Territories Gérald Darmanin said a hundred gendarmes were evacuated during violence overnight following “an attack on their station with an ax and live ammunition.”

“Calm must absolutely be restored,” Darmanin said in an interview with French broadcaster RTL.

On Tuesday, the French Interior Ministry sent police reinforcements to New Caledonia, which long served as a prison colony and now hosts a French military base.

A thousand gendarmes and 700 police officers have been deployed and a dozen professionals from a specialised police intervention and riot control unit have also been mobilised, the territory’s top French official, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc, said at a news conference in New Caledonia.

Two people were killed and three badly injured in the unrest overnight, Le Franc said in an interview with France Info broadcaster.

Earlier on Wednesday, he warned that if calm is not restored, there will be “many deaths” in the area of the capital, Nouméa.

“The situation is not serious, it is very serious,” Le Franc said.

“We have entered a dangerous spiral, a deadly spiral.”

He said some residents of the capital have formed “self-defence groups” to protect their homes and business.

The unrest started on Monday with a protest over France’s efforts to expand voter lists that would benefit pro-France politicians on New Caledonia and further marginalise the Kanak people, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

Early on Wednesday, France’s National Assembly adopted a constitutional revision reforming the electoral body in the territory, with 351 lawmakers voting for and 153 against the bill.

Pro-independence representatives appealed to supporters for calm and condemned the vote in the National Assembly, France’s most influential house of parliament.

Macron also appealed for calm after the vote and condemned “unworthy violence” in a letter to Caledonian representatives and political parties.

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He called on all local politicians to engage in dialogue and submit suggestions for changes to the bill.

Macron said he would convene the Congress, a joint session of lawmakers from both houses of the French parliament, by the end of June to amend the constitution and make it law in the absence of a meaningful dialogue with local representatives.

The bill would allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections.

People of European descent in New Caledonia distinguish between descendants of colonisers and descendants of the many prisoners sent to the territory by force.

The vast archipelago of about 270,000 people east of Australia is 10 time zones ahead of Paris.

History of New Caledonia

New Caledonia became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon’s nephew and heir.

It became an overseas territory after World War II, with French citizenship granted to all Kanaks in 1957.

A peace deal between rival factions was reached in 1988.

A decade later, France promised to grant New Caledonia political power and broad autonomy and hold up to three successive referendums.

The three referendums were organized between 2018 to 2021 and a majority of voters chose to remain part of France instead of backing independence.

The pro-independence Kanak people rejected the results of the last referendum in 2021, which they boycotted because it was held at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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