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French troops try to restore order in crisis-hit New Caledonia

By RFI
South Pacific AFP - DELPHINE MAYEUR
SAT, 18 MAY 2024 LISTEN
AFP - DELPHINE MAYEUR

Hundreds of French security personnel tried to restore order in the Pacific island territory of New Caledonia on Saturday, after a fifth night of riots, looting and unrest.

Bands of heavily armed French marines and police patrolled the capital Noumea, where streets were filled with debris from another night of violence that had already killed five people and injured hundreds.\

Reporters working for the French press agency AFP in the city's Magenta district saw vehicles and buildings burned, with a phalanx of riot police trying to reassert government control.

Overnight, residents reported hearing gunfire, the drone of helicopter rotors and "massive explosions," what seemed to be gas canisters blowing up inside a building that was set alight.

Helene, aged 42, told AFP that she and neighbours had been manning makeshift barricades in two-to-three-hour shifts, as they waited for thousands of French security forces being flown 17,000 kilometres (10,600 miles) to impose order

"At night we hear shooting, and things going off," she said. "Helicopters and army planes landing, which is sweet music to our ears."

For almost a week, the usually unhurried oceanside city has been convulsed.

Two gendarmes have been killed: one shot in the head and a second shot in friendly fire, officials said.

Three other people, all Indigenous Kanaks, have also been killed: a 17-year-old and two men aged 20 and 36.

The unrest has been blamed on economic malaise, social tensions and -- above all, a political fight between mostly Indigenous pro-independence activists and Paris authorities.

Paris has accused a separatist group known as CCAT of being behind the riots.

Ten independence activists have been placed under house arrest, according to authorities, who accuse them of organising the violence.

On Friday CCAT issued a statement calling for "a time of calm to break the spiral of violence".

(With newswires)

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