First French tourists evacuated from New Caledonia as unrest continues

The first evacuation flights for French tourists stranded in New Caledonia due to riots in the Pacific territory took off Saturday, the high commission in the archipelago said.

The international airport in the capital Noumea has remained closed for more than a week and all commercial flights have been cancelled due to the unrest.

"Measures to send foreigners and French tourists home continue," the high commission, which represents the French state, said in a statement.

The tourists departed Saturday from Magenta airfield in Noumea aboard military aircraft headed for Australia and New Zealand, according to an AFP journalist.

They will then have to take commercial flights to mainland France.

"I came on vacation to visit my best friend (...) The conflict broke out and I got stuck," in Noumea, Audrey, who did not give her last name, told AFP.

Australia and New Zealand had already begun repatriating their nationals on Tuesday.

The situation has been gradually easing for the many people trapped in the territory which has been shaken since May 13 by riots over planned voting reforms.

Seven people have been killed in the violence, the latest a man shot dead on Friday by a policeman who was attacked by protesters.

President Emmanuel Macron flew to the archipelago on Thursday in an urgent bid to defuse the political crisis.

"What I want is a message of order and return to calm as this is not the Wild West," he said.


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