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New Caledonia airport to stay closed to commercial flights until Tuesday

A man walks past a damaged supermarket in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 24, 2024.
A man walks past a damaged supermarket in Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 24, 2024.

The international airport in the New Caledonian capital, Noumea, will remain closed to commercial flights until at least 9 a.m. Tuesday (2200 GMT Monday), Charles Roger, director of the body that operates the facility, told AFP.

That would extend the shutdown to nearly two weeks in total, after flights were halted on May 15 in the face of deadly rioting that broke out in the French Pacific territory.

The news on Friday came as French President Emmanuel Macron warned the archipelago must not become "the Wild West" during a television interview with local media.

France has dispatched about 3,000 security personnel to the territory in a bid to restore order after more than a week of rioting that has left at least six people dead.

Macron justified the measure as necessary for a "return to calm," because "it's not the Wild West."

"The republic must regain authority on all points. In France, not everyone defends themselves," he added, reference to local groups who have organized the defense of their neighborhoods amid the unrest.

"There is a republican order, it is the security forces who ensure it," he added.

Since Tuesday, New Zealand and Australia have been carrying out special evacuation flights to bring home hundreds of tourists stranded by the unrest, which was sparked by opposition to controversial electoral reforms.

The Australian evacuation flights were set to continue Friday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on social media platform X Thursday evening.

Military aircraft from both countries were expected to pass through Noumea on Friday, according to flight tracker site Flightradar24.

Since May 13, hundreds have been injured amid looting, arson and clashes triggered by the French voting reform plan.

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 had planned to give voting rights to thousands of non-Indigenous long-term residents, something Kanaks say would dilute the influence of their votes.

Separatists have thrown up barricades that have cut off whole neighborhoods, as well as the main route to the international airport.

Macron on Thursday conceded more talks were needed on the voting changes, and pledged they would "not be forced through in the current context."

"We will allow some weeks to allow a calming of tensions and resumption of dialogue to find a broad accord" among all parties, he added, saying he would review the situation again within a month.

Caledonians would be asked to vote on their future if leaders can reach an over-arching agreement, Macron said. The French parliament's lower house had approved the voting reform, but final ratification was still needed.