More arrests as New Caledonia protesters keep up their roadblocks

Europe © Theo Rouby/AFP
© Theo Rouby/AFP

Pro-independence protesters in New Caledonia have vowed to maintain their blockades as French security forces seek to quell six days of violent unrest sparked by a controversial reform of voting rules in the Pacific territory.

Roads remain blocked in the capital Noumea and elsewhere in the French overseas territory, while the airport is also closed.

The group organising the protests, Field Action Co-ordination Cell (CCAT), said in a statement the blockades would continue but urged protestors to be peaceful.

Six people have been killed, including two gendarmes, and hundreds injured since Monday, when protests against a constitutional amendment approved by French lawmakers turned violent.

The move would change rules over who is allowed to participate in local elections, which the pro-independence indigenous Kanak people say will dilute their voice.

On Monday the two fallen gendarmes were awarded the "interior security medal", a civil and military honour for security forces established in 2012 that recognises exceptional behaviour.

High Commissioner Louis Le Franc has said that order in New Caledonia would be restored “whatever the cost”.

Capital 'battered'

Businesses in Noumea and around the territory have been burnt and looted, cars set alight and roads blocked, cutting off access to medicine and food.

Several media quoted Noumea mayor Sonia Lagarde describing the capital as “battered”, while the CCI chamber of commerce said 150 businesses had been looted and burnt.

CCI president David Guyenne told the AFP news agency that the rioting had caused about €200 million in damage.

The international airport, which has been closed to commercial flights since Tuesday, will remain closed until Thursday morning.

This was despite repeated requests from Australia and New Zealand to allow flights to evacuate their citizens – tourists and visitors stranded on the island.

French territories united

The presidents of France's other overseas territories – Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion Island and French Guyana – have called for a political solution to the crisis.

In an open letter, they called for the withdrawal of the electoral reform bill and for a political solution to "prevent a civil war".

Withdrawing the reform should be a “prerequisite to resuming peaceful dialogue”, they wrote.

The security response to the crisis did "not offer any solution” and instead ran the risk of "producing a spiral of violence and comporomising a return to the calm expected”.

(with newswires)