Hundreds of French police deployed amid New Caledonia riots

<span>A building damaged in the New Caledonia riots against plans to allow more people to take part in local elections.</span><span>Photograph: Lilou Garrido Navarro Kherachi/Reuters</span>
A building damaged in the New Caledonia riots against plans to allow more people to take part in local elections.Photograph: Lilou Garrido Navarro Kherachi/Reuters

Hundreds of police reinforcements have arrived in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia as the government in Paris insisted talks would not happen until calm had been restored.

As many as 1,000 extra police and gendarmes are being deployed to bolster the 1,700-strong force already in New Caledonia after three nights of violent riots that have killed five people, including two police officers.

As the French government held a crisis meeting to address continuing unrest, the prime minister, Gabriel Attal, said an end to the violence and restoring calm were “a prerequisite for further dialogue” and that the government was setting up an airlift to “guarantee the supply of essential products”.


The riots in New Caledonia, which sits between Australia and Fiji, were sparked by moves to introduce a new voting law that independence supporters say discriminates against the Indigenous Kanaks, who make up 40% of the population. Three young Kanak people have died since the violence broke out.

France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said police and gendarmes had arrested more than 206 people and that 10 members of Field Action Co-ordination Cell (CCAT), a pro-independence group he described as a “mafia”, had been put under house arrest. More house arrests would follow, he said.

Related: Like a ‘civil war’: Nouméa residents describe terror as deadly riots sweep New Caledonia capital

Darmanin accused Azerbaijan of stoking tensions in the region in revenge for France supporting Armenia in conflicts between the two countries in 2020 and 2023. France is a traditional ally of Armenia and home to a large Armenian diaspora.

Azerbaijan invited separatists from the French territories of Martinique, French Guiana, New Caledonia and French Polynesia to Baku for a conference in July 2023, at which the “Baku initiative group” was created with the aim of supporting “French liberation and anti-colonialist movements”.

“It’s not a fantasy, it’s a reality … I regret that some of the Caledonian pro-independence leaders have made a deal with Azerbaijan. That’s undeniable,” Darmanin told French television.

His claim of Ajerbaijan’s involvement was backed by the opposition Socialist candidate in the European elections, Raphaël Glucksmann, who told Public Senate TV that Baku had been trying to interfere in the French territories “for months” and was “seizing on internal problems”.

The violence in three of New Caledonia’s municipalities has pitted gendarmes against about 5,000 rioters, including between 3,000 and 4,000 in the capital, Nouméa, according to France’s high commissioner, Louis Le Franc.

Two officers were reported to have died, one from what was described as “accidental fire”, and 64 as injured.

Road barricades put up by the protesters were causing a “dire situation” for medicine and food for the population, Le Franc said.

A state of emergency declared on Wednesday has given the authorities additional powers to ban gatherings and forbid people from moving around.

Yoan Fleurot, a Nouméa resident, said he had seen the looting and destruction of properties. Some shop owners let their shelves be raided, pleading that their premises not be destroyed, he said.

The roadblocks were difficult to pass through, and he had been subjected to insults and threats of violence, he said. “I am New Caledonian, but I no longer know my country any more. Caledonia will have a hard time recovering from this crisis … Everything, 80%, is destroyed.”

Main and secondary roads in Nouméa were blocked by barricades with burning cars and their shells, some with booby traps of gas bottles and ignition systems, Le Franc said. “I am calling on those at the head of the CCAT to stop these actions, which are murderous, deadly actions that can leave families in mourning,” he said.

Rioting broke out over a bill adopted by the French parliament in Paris on Tuesday that will let non-Caledonian French people who have lived on the archipelago for 10 years vote in provincial elections, a move some local leaders say will dilute the Indigenous Kanak vote.

A state of emergency has been imposed for 12 days and authorities have banned TikTok. Neither Attal nor Le Franc said why the video app had been targeted, but one local councillor said it had been used to “circulate messages of hate and appeals for violence”.

Electoral overhaul is the latest flashpoint in decades of dispute over France’s role in the mineral-rich island collectivity, which lies in the south-west Pacific 930 miles (1,500km) east of Australia.

Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, said Australians were advised to reconsider their need to travel to New Caledonia because of “civil unrest, travel disruption and limited essential services”.

“Again I repeat and take this opportunity to repeat Australia’s call for calm,” she said. “We respect and support the referendum process … and the discussions under way between all parties, and encourage all parties to work together cooperatively to shape the future of New Caledonia.”

With Reuters