NewsMacron's emergency visit to New Caledonia amid escalating unrest

Macron's emergency visit to New Caledonia amid escalating unrest

Riots broke out in New Caledonia. Demonstrators are demanding the rights of the indigenous people, the Kanaks.
Riots broke out in New Caledonia. Demonstrators are demanding the rights of the indigenous people, the Kanaks.
Images source: © Getty Images | Alain Pitton

9:37 AM EDT, May 22, 2024

The French president embarked on an unscheduled visit to the overseas territory. Waves of serious unrest have been sweeping through New Caledonia in recent weeks. Paris introduced social precautionary measures in response, marking the first state of emergency in 40 years.

Government spokesperson Prisca Thevenot announced President Macron's sudden trip to New Caledonia on Tuesday evening. The journey is meant to confirm that the situation in France's overseas territories is normalizing and that the previously undertaken actions have restored control.

The crisis in New Caledonia, a community under France's oversight in the western Pacific Ocean, about 870 miles east of Australia, erupted on May 13. Paris announced a proposed reform to the electoral system.

The proposed changes concern the right to vote. Voting rights are to be granted to people who have been permanent residents of New Caledonia for at least 10 years. The rebels are defending the electoral rights of the indigenous population—the Kanaks.

New Caledonia. President Macron has gone to the overseas territory

Activists advocating for the country's independence protested against the project, plunging the country into chaos. There were clashes in the streets. The participants confronted not only uniformed services but also self-defense groups. There was looting of shops and shopping centers, arson, and destruction.

The French authorities sent the military to protect public buildings in response to the demonstrations. However, as noted by AFP, despite numerous patrols by soldiers, police, and gendarmerie in the streets, complete peace cannot yet be assured. At any moment, the riots might erupt again.

Australian and New Zealand authorities fear for their citizens' safety, so they send special planes to Noumea airport. These additional transports are meant to help numerous tourists leave the troubled country.

New Caledonia, belonging to France since 1853, is, according to the UN, one of the last 17 existing colonies in the world. Paris still has 13 similar overseas territories.

Under the agreements from Noumea in 1998, New Caledonia created its government and parliament. France transferred to local authorities competencies in education and an economy based on nickel ore extraction.

However, the French colony did not become a place of cultural equality. Deep divisions persist between the indigenous population—the Kanaks, harmed by the colonizers—and the Caldoches, descendants of French prisoners exiled in the 19th century.

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