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French president convenes top ministers to discuss spiraling violence in territory of New Caledonia

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PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has convened a meeting of top ministers to discuss spiraling violence in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, his office said Wednesday.

The special defense and security council meetings typically bring Macron together with a limited group of officials, including Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and the ministers for defense, interior, economy and foreign affairs.

On Wednesday, a person was fatally shot in the French Pacific territory as violent unrest over a constitutional reform pushed by Paris roiled the archipelago, which has long sought independence.

On Tuesday, the French Interior Ministry sent police reinforcements to New Caledonia, which long served as a prison colony and now hosts a French military base.

French Interior and Overseas Territories Minister Gérald Darmanin said four mobile gendarmerie squadrons are being deployed as reinforcements, including 15 gendarmes from an elite intervention unit.

The unrest started as French lawmakers debated voting reforms which would increase the number of people who could cast ballots in New Caledonia.

Opponents say expanding voter lists that have not been updated since 1998 would benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalize the indigenous Kanak people, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

People of European descent in New Caledonia distinguish between descendants of colonizers and descendants of the many prisoners sent to the territory by force. The vast archipelago of about 270,000 people east of Australia is 10 time zones ahead of Paris.

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