Berliner Tageblatt - State of emergency in New Caledonia to be lifted: presidency

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State of emergency in New Caledonia to be lifted: presidency
State of emergency in New Caledonia to be lifted: presidency / Photo: © POOL/AFP/File

State of emergency in New Caledonia to be lifted: presidency

The state of emergency in New Caledonia, which has been hit by deadly rioting, will be lifted early Tuesday local time, the French presidency said, adding 480 gendarmes were being sent to the Pacific territory as reinforcements.

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"The President has decided for the time being not to extend the state of emergency" beyond its legal deadline of 12 days to allow for meetings with the pro-independence FLNKS party, the Elysee said in a statement on Sunday.

Seven people have been killed in New Caledonia since riots over planned voting reforms erupted on May 13.

Paris enforced the state of emergency two weeks ago, flying in hundreds of police and military reinforcements to restore order in the archipelago, which lies around 17,000 kilometres (10,600 miles) from mainland France.

The French government hopes that this easing of restrictions will enable dialogue to be re-established on the many blockades still in place.

The FLNKS party on Saturday renewed its "call for calm" and asked for "the blockades on the main traffic routes to be eased".

The lifting of the blockades is "the necessary condition for the opening of concrete and serious negotiations", the French presidency added in its statement, which said the state of emergency would be lifted at 5:00 am Tuesday (1800 GMT Monday).

President Emmanuel Macron flew to the Pacific archipelago on Thursday in an urgent bid to defuse the crisis, with the situation gradually easing over the past few days.

Police are struggling to control certain districts of the capital Noumea and the international airport will remain closed to commercial flights until at least June 2.

The Elysee also announced "7 additional mobile force units, i.e. 480 mobile gendarmes" would be sent to New Caledonia "within the next few hours" as reinforcements.

In total, around 3,500 troops have been deployed to the archipelago, where two gendarmes died during the riots over planned voting reforms.

New Caledonia has been ruled from Paris since the 1800s, but many indigenous Kanaks still resent France's power over their islands and want fuller autonomy or independence.

France is planning to give voting rights to thousands of non-indigenous long-term residents, something Kanaks say would dilute the influence of their votes.

Macron pledged during his lightning trip to New Caledonia that the planned voting reforms "will not be forced through".

On Saturday, the president said he would be willing to hold a referendum on the contentious changes, though he hoped that elected New Caledonia officials would be able to reach an agreement.

"I can move toward a referendum at any time," he told the Parisien newspaper in an interview.

"Even if the violence ends, we will have to live together again. That's the hardest thing," he said.

The pro-independence FLNKS party on Saturday reiterated its demand for the withdrawal of the voting reforms after meeting with Macron.

E.Schubert--BTB