Berliner Tageblatt - French president flies to riot-struck New Caledonia

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French president flies to riot-struck New Caledonia
French president flies to riot-struck New Caledonia / Photo: © AFP

French president flies to riot-struck New Caledonia

President Emmanuel Macron flew to France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia on Wednesday, where nine days of riots have killed six, injured hundreds and incinerated cars, shops and public buildings.

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Macron's plane was en route from France to the troubled islands, a holiday destination now strewn with hundreds of charred vehicles and scarred by burned-out stores, businesses and schools.

The deadliest unrest in four decades has been blamed on French plans to give voting rights to thousands of non-indigenous residents, which Indigenous Kanaks say will dilute their votes.

French authorities said the violence, which erupted May 13, had eased since 1,050 troops, tactical police and national security reinforcements from Paris were deployed, including to "highly sensitive" areas.

Nevertheless, two primary schools and 300 cars in a dealership were torched in the territory's capital Noumea during the night, the mayor's office told AFP.

Police have arrested more than 280 "rioters" in the unrest gripping the French territory of 270,000, authorities said.

Local prosecutors say around 400 shops and businesses have been damaged.

The toll stands at six dead and hundreds more injured.

- Trapped tourists flee -

New Caledonia's government said telecoms services had managed to stop an "unprecedented" mass email cyberattack on an internet provider for the territory, saying it had been launched shortly after Macron announced his surprise visit.

Trapped tourists have begun to flee.

Australia and New Zealand sent an initial batch of military planes to Noumea's small domestic Magenta airport on Tuesday, repatriating "about 100 people", according to French authorities on the island.

"When we landed, it was just like 'Oh, thank God we're here!'" said Mary Hatten, who had spent a week holed up in a Noumea hotel, after touching down in Brisbane.

Further flights will be organised until the main La Tontouta International Airport reopens to commercial flights, which the operator expects to be on Saturday morning.

France is organising a flight Wednesday to bring about 100 more Australians from Noumea to Brisbane, the Australian government said.

Macron plans to "listen to, talk and hold discussions with New Caledonian elected officials" in an attempt to restore order, an official close to the president told AFP in Paris.

He wants to "give answers to the many legitimate questions Caledonians are asking, both on the reconstruction side and the political side", the official said.

One Kanak manning an unofficial roadblock north of the capital Noumea said Macron needed to understand Indigenous opposition to the vote reform.

"I don't know why our fate is being discussed by people who don't even live here," said the 52-year-old, who gave only his first name Mike.

"We are the people of the country, not you or the others. No, it's us," he told AFP.

The voice of local Kanaks "is not being listened to, not being heard", he said.

- Barricades -

French security forces have removed more than 90 roadblocks, authorities said.

But Kanak separatists, some masked and wielding homemade catapults, are still manning makeshift roadblocks including on the main route to the international airport, AFP correspondents said.

Armed locals, of French and other origins, have set up their own neighbourhood barricades.

Many Kanaks, who make up about 40 percent of the population, oppose the plan to extend voting rights to those who have lived in the territory for at least 10 years.

But anti-independence representatives want it pushed through.

Withdrawing "would prove the wreckers, the looters and the rioters right," said Nicolas Metzdorf, a New Caledonia MP for Macron's Renaissance party.

 

New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s.

But almost two centuries on, opinion is split roughly along ethnic lines over whether the islands should be part of France, autonomous or independent.

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O.Krause--BTB