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French President Macron arrives in New Caledonia as deadly unrest shakes island

23/5/2024 6:07
        President Emmanuel Macron has landed in riot-hit New Caledonia, having crossed the globe by plane from Paris in a high-profile show of support for the French Pacific archipelago wracked by deadly unrest and where Indigenous people have long sought independence from France.
        
        The president binned his previously announced schedule to make the journey of some 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) himself, stung into action by the most severe violence to hit New Caledonia since the 1980s. The lightning visit, expected to last just one day, will allow him to see first-hand some of the scars from days of shootings, arson, looting and other violence that has left six dead and a broad trail of destruction.
        
        He is expected to thank French security forces that have been battling to restore order, with more than 1,000 reinforcements rushed in and a state of emergency declared last week from Paris to boost their powers.
        
        It was late Tuesday in Paris when he climbed aboard his presidential jet but, because of the distance and time difference, it was already Thursday morning in New Caledonia when he arrived, with unrest still simmering and his interior and defense ministers in tow.
        
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        French President Emmanuel Macron was on a flight to New Caledonia Wednesday to seek a political solution to the deadly violence that has rocked the French archipelago in the Pacific where indigenous Kanaks have long sought independence.
        
        The rioting has raised new questions about Macron’s handling of France’s colonial legacy, including on the islands some 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) from metropolitan France. There have been decades of tensions between the Kanaks and descendants of colonists and others who settled in the territory of 270,000 people and want to remain part of France.
        
        The violence erupted May 13 as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French Constitution to make changes to New Caledonia voter lists. Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalize the Kanaks, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.
        
        Macron left France on Tuesday evening and is expected to land on Thursday morning in New Caledonia. The presidential Elysee Palace said he will focus on restoring order and facilitating dialogue among local leaders.
        
        The president is going "to launch a discussion which should allow for a comprehensive political agreement to emerge," Prime Minster Gabriel Attal told senators on Wednesday, without going into detail.
        
        Six people have died in the violence, including four civilians and two gendarmes. The New Caledonia High Commission said more than 280 people have been arrested and 84 police officers and gendarmes have been injured. It said 1,050 reinforcements from the gendarmerie, police and civil security have been deployed.
        
        It was not clear how many civilians were injured.
        
        Macron's objectives also include expressing solidarity with the territory's inhabitants, thanking security forces, and meeting with local leaders. He was also expected to discuss the significant reconstruction needed. The violence has caused damage estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of euros (dollars).
        
        Macron, in the past, has facilitated dialogue in New Caledonia between pro-independence and pro-France factions. The efforts culminated in a 2018 referendum, the first of three, in which New Caledonians voted to remain part of France by a narrow margin.
        
        Evacuation flights from New Caledonia to Australia continued.
        



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