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Unrest racks French Pacific territory of New Caledonia | Protests News

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Authorities in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia have announced a two-day curfew and banned gatherings following violent unrest.

The French authorities imposed the curfew in the capital, Noumea, and other areas, closed New Caledonia’s international airport, and sent for police reinforcements after protests by independence campaigners over changes to the territory’s voting system turned to unrest.

New Caledonia’s government called for calm, reporting that 54 members of the security forces had been injured and 82 people had been arrested. No serious civilian injuries were reported.

The authorities also condemned the destruction of property, saying 50 local businesses and about 200 vehicles had been burned.

The violence flared overnight on Monday as French lawmakers in Paris debated voting law changes which would increase the number of people who could cast ballots in New Caledonia. A final vote was scheduled for later on Tuesday.

The proposed changes would allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections – a move local leaders fear will dilute the vote of Indigenous Kanak.

One of five island territories spanning the Asia Pacific held by France, New Caledonia is rich in natural resources and is the centrepiece of French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to increase Paris’s influence in the region.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on X that the proposed new election rules were “a moral duty for those who believe in democracy” but should not stand in the way of attempts to reach a larger political agreement.

Darmanin, whose portfolio includes France’s overseas territories, was tasked by Macron to seal a deal with Kanak leaders on the future status of New Caledonia after decades of political tension.

Macron’s office at the weekend said the president would invite representatives of the territory’s population to Paris for talks to reach a peaceful settlement.

All gatherings have been banned in the Greater Noumea area, and a liquor ban has been put in place while the international airport in Noumea has been closed and all commercial flights cancelled.

New Caledonia is about 19,300km (12,000 miles) from France, with a population of 270,000, including 41 percent Melanesian and 24 percent of European origin, mostly French.

A 1998 Noumea Accord helped end a decade of conflict by outlining a path to gradual autonomy and restricting voting to the Indigenous Kanak and migrants living in New Caledonia before 1998.

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