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Macron meets riot cops & pledges military crackdown on paradise-turned-hellhole island New Caledonia after deadly riots

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EMMANUEL Macron has pledged a military crackdown on New Caledonia after meeting with riot cops on the paradise-turned-hellhole island.

The French president made a long-haul trip to the Pacific territory on Thursday and urged a “return to peace” after deadly rioting left six dead and hundreds more injured.

Emmanuel Macron arrives at the central police station in Noumea, New Caledonia, for his meeting with riot cops

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Emmanuel Macron arrives at the central police station in Noumea, New Caledonia, for his meeting with riot copsCredit: EPA
A member of police stands guard ahead of the arrival of the French President

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A member of police stands guard ahead of the arrival of the French PresidentCredit: EPA
Riots have run rife across the Pacific island over the last nine days

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Riots have run rife across the Pacific island over the last nine daysCredit: EPA
Burnt-out vehicles lay strewn across roads in Noumea's Magenta Tour district

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Burnt-out vehicles lay strewn across roads in Noumea’s Magenta Tour districtCredit: AFP

Macron arrived in the capital Noumea after a 24-hour flight and vowed that thousands of military reinforcements will be deployed for “as long as necessary” following nine days of looting, arson and clashes.

The unrest erupted over a French voting reform plan that Indigenous Kanaks say will dilute their voice.

As he exited the plane at Tontouta International Airport, the French leader told reporters he wanted to ensure that “as quickly as possible there will be a return to peace, calm, security”.

“That is the absolute priority,” Macron added, ahead of a day of intensive meetings with local leaders.

He is expected to spend about 12 hours on the ground.

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

“I don’t know why our fate is being discussed by people who don’t even live here,” said Mike, a 52-year-old Kanak at a separatist roadblock north of the capital, on the eve of Macron’s visit.

Since May 13, separatists have thrown up barricades that have cut off whole neighbourhoods and the main route to the international airport, which remains shuttered.

People of French and other origins have blocked off streets in their own neighbourhoods in response.

It had been a “totally unprecedented movement of insurrection,” Macron said, adding that “no-one saw it coming with this level of organisation and violence”.

Brits evacuated from ‘paradise’ turned HELLHOLE New Caledonia as it plunges into Haiti-style bloodshed with deadly riots

Nightly riots have seen scores of cars, schools, shops and businesses burned.

French authorities have imposed a state of emergency, placed separatist leaders under house arrest, banned alcohol sales and sent around 3,000 troops, police and other security reinforcements to quell the turmoil.

The fact that Macron is willing to make such a long journey just weeks before key European elections may show just how high the stakes are.

His visit began with a minute of silence for the dead and an hours-long discussion with local elected officials, before visiting a police station to thank security forces.

“By the end of the day” there would be “decisions” and “announcements” about next steps, Macron promised – while adding that he could extend his stay if needed.

Security forces would also “stay for as long as necessary, even during the Olympic and Paralympic Games” to be held in Paris in July and August.

New Caledonia is 10,500 miles from the French mainland but remains both part of France and a strategic outpost in an increasingly contested region.

China, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, Arab Gulf states and France are vying for influence across the South Pacific — seeing it as crucial geopolitical real estate.

New Caledonia is also attractive as one of the world’s largest nickel producers, with up to 30 per cent of global reserves.

The archipelago’s deadliest unrest in four decades was sparked by French plans to give voting rights to thousands of non-indigenous long-term residents, something Kanaks say would dilute the influence of their votes.

New Caledonia has on three occasions rejected independence in referendums.

But the last of those ballots took place during the Covid-19 pandemic and was boycotted by much of the Kanak population.

Macron thanked security forces for their attempts to quell the riots

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Macron thanked security forces for their attempts to quell the riotsCredit: Rex
Patrol by gendarmes to secure the route taken by President Macron

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Patrol by gendarmes to secure the route taken by President MacronCredit: Rex
French Gendarmerie stand with their shields at the entrance of the Vallee-du-Tir district in Noumea

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French Gendarmerie stand with their shields at the entrance of the Vallee-du-Tir district in NoumeaCredit: AFP
A Gendarmerie officer looks on from an armoured vehicle

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A Gendarmerie officer looks on from an armoured vehicleCredit: Getty
A police vehicle damaged during the recent riots

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A police vehicle damaged during the recent riotsCredit: EPA

Macron ruled out going back on the result of the referendums, saying peace could not come at the cost of ignoring the will of the people or “somehow denying the road that has already been taken”.

He last visited New Caledonia in July 2023, on a trip that was boycotted by Kanak representatives.

Pro-independence leaders were present at the president’s first meeting on Thursday, ahead of a second set to focus more closely on the political issues facing the territory.

Out on the streets, Kanaks continue to reinforce roadblocks on the day of Macron’s visit, flying pro-independence flags and displaying protest banners against the electoral reform.

But a heavy police presence was sheltering some semblance of normal life in central Noumea, where many shops had reopened to customers and long queues formed outside businesses such as bakeries.

Hundreds of tourists from Australia and New Zealand have begun to flee the turmoil, although hundreds more remain trapped.

But there was anger on Thursday that Macron’s visit – which includes a large security footprint at both Noumea’s domestic and international airports – had put further repatriation flights on hold.

Australia’s foreign ministry emailed travellers to say there would be no flights on Thursday, a situation New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters called “frustrating”.

Why are there riots in New Caledonia?

By Rebecca Husselbee

Deadly riots in the French colony of New Caledonia have been sparked after lawmakers in Paris approved a constitutional amendment to allow recent arrivals to the territory to vote in elections.

Local leaders fear the changes will dilute the vote of the indigenous Kanak people, who make up 40 per cent of the paradise island’s population.

In 1998 it was agreed that voting would be restricted to the indigenous Kanaks and migrants living there before ’98 but riots have exploded after Paris decided to open up elections to those who have lived there for at least ten years.

The amendment is the latest flashpoint in a decades-long battle over France’s control of the territory since 1942 after Macron announced plans to increase French influence in the Pacific.

New Caledonia is the world’s third biggest nickel producer and is situated in a spot where the US and China are currently grappling for power.

After the nickel boom attracted many outsiders to the island tensions have risen with conflicts between Paris and Kanak independence movements.

Burning vehicles have formed roadblocks across the French territory over the past nine days

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Burning vehicles have formed roadblocks across the French territory over the past nine daysCredit: AFP
An activist stands atop a burnt car in the territory

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An activist stands atop a burnt car in the territoryCredit: AFP
Residents look at burnt cars at a car dealer store in the Belle-Vie district in Noumea

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Residents look at burnt cars at a car dealer store in the Belle-Vie district in NoumeaCredit: AFP

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