Accessibility links

Breaking News

French president travels to violence-wracked New Caledonia

A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft lands to evacuate people at the airport in Noumea, New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. (Australian Department of Defense via AFP)
A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft lands to evacuate people at the airport in Noumea, New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. (Australian Department of Defense via AFP)

President Emmanuel Macron is traveling to the violence-wracked Pacific territory of New Caledonia.

He is expected to arrive early Thursday.

Macron’s trip to the French-controlled archipelago comes a week after deadly riots broke out over a bill introduced in the French parliament that would allow French-born residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in local elections. Leaders of the island’s pro-independence movement say the measure would dilute the voting power of the indigenous Kanak people, who have suffered under decades of discrimination.

At least six people have been killed and hundreds more wounded in the violence. Scores of homes and businesses have been looted and burned in the capital, Noumea, prompting authorities to impose a dusk-to-dawn curfew and a ban on public gatherings. The violence has also prompted the closure of schools and businesses, as well as the island’s airport, which left thousands of tourists unable to leave.

Groups of Kanak protesters have set up roadblocks leading in and out of Noumea, which has prevented deliveries of food and medicine to citizens and tourists trapped in their homes and resorts.

Australia and New Zealand began sending planes to Noumea to evacuate their stranded citizens from the troubled island.

The first of two Australian military transport planes arrived at the airport to begin evacuating 300 Australian tourists.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong posted on the social media platform X late Monday that Canberra has been cleared by France for “two government assisted flights” to evacuate Australians and other tourists from the archipelago. Wong added that passengers are being prioritized according to need, and that the government will “continue to work on further flights.”

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the government there is sending a plane to Noumea to evacuate 50 of its nationals. Peters acknowledged that New Zealanders in New Caledonia “have faced a challenging few days” and that bringing them home “has been an urgent priority” for Wellington.

France has deployed more than 1,000 security personnel to help end the unrest, with hundreds more due to arrive Tuesday.

At least 270 people have been arrested.

France agreed in 1998 to grant New Caledonia more political power and autonomy and to hold three referendums over the island’s status. Voters have rejected independence in all three referendums.

France’s National Assembly approved the controversial measure last week by a vote of 351-153. The bill still must be approved in a special session of both houses of parliament next month.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse.

  • 16x9 Image

    VOA News

    The Voice of America provides news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of over 326 million people. Stories with the VOA News byline are the work of multiple VOA journalists and may contain information from wire service reports.