Court proceedings begin against suspected ringleader of New Caledonia riots

A leader of the independence movement in French Pacific territory New Caledonia was charged Saturday after being arrested earlier this week, following weeks of deadly riots last month.

The authorities did not immediately say what crimes Christian Tein – head of the CCAT pro-independence group – was charged with at his interview with an investigating magistrate in the courthouse in the New Caledonian capital Nouméa.

His half-hour hearing at the judges' office was the first among a group of 11 arrested on Wednesday over the recent violence, in which nine people including two police officers died.

Hundreds more were wounded, and around €1.5 billion of damage was inflicted during the riots.

The remainder of the group were set to be charged later Saturday, including CCAT communications chief Brenda Wanabo, who is also in custody

According to Thomas Gruet, a lawyer for Wanabo: "My client never imagined she would find herself here. She's extremely shocked, in her eyes she's just an activist".

'Mafia-style' allegations

Riots, street barricades and looting broke out in New Caledonia in mid-May over an electoral reform plan that indigenous Kanak people feared would leave them in a permanent minority, putting independence hopes definitively out of reach.

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