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France suspends New Caledonia voting reform that sparked deadly riots

By RFI
South Pacific AFP - DELPHINE MAYEUR
WED, 12 JUN 2024 LISTEN
AFP - DELPHINE MAYEUR

President Emmanuel Macron says a voting reform that triggered weeks of deadly unrest in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia has been "suspended" in the light of snap parliamentary polls.

"The constitutional project on the electorate in New Caledonia has been suspended," Macron told reporters at at Paris press conference on Wednesday.

Instead he said he aimed to "give full voice to local dialogue and the restoration of order".

The announcement came as a ninth death was confirmed on Tuesday, in the worst violence the archipelago has seen in four decades.

The French government had planned to extend the right to vote in provincial elections to people resident in the territory for at least 10 years, adding a further 24,000 people to electoral rolls.

But indigenous Kanak leaders feared it would dilute their vote among the 270,000-strong population, burying hopes for eventually winning independence from France.

Although approved by both France's National Assembly and Senate, the reform needed a constitutional congress of both houses to become law.

"I have decided to suspend it, because we can't leave things ambiguous in this period," Macron said, in reference to the current political turmoil facing the country.

Macron dissolved the National Assembly on Sunday and announced snap elections on 30 June and 7 July in the wake of the European Parliament polls that saw big wins for the far-right National Rally party while his own camp was drubbed.

With the National Assembly dissolved, the congress could not have been held by the 30 June deadline – the day of the first round of the election.

'No longer relevant'

 New Caledonia's President Louis Mapou said the dissolution of the French parliament meant the electoral changes were "no longer relevant".

Pro-independence movements had already seen the voting reform as dead and buried in the light of the snap elections.

"We can all agree that the European elections saw off the constitutional bill," the Kanak Liberation Party (Palika) said Wednesday before Macron's remarks.

"This should be a time for rebuilding peace and social ties," it added, calling for all roadblocks to be lifted.

Violence broke out in New Caledonia on 13 May after France's parliament voted to back the voting reform.

Nine people, including two gendarmes, died in the unrest, while hundreds were injured.

Some 1,192 arrests have been made as of 10 June, according to the French High Commission in New Caledonia.

Cars and businesses were torched, particularly in the capital Noumea, causing hundreds of millions of euros in damage.

Parislifted the state of emergency on the territory on 28 May and relative calm has returned.

But French security forces arestill in place and some roadblocks are still enforced by Kanak and pro-independence supporters.

Mapou has called for the "immediate lifting of barricades and a return to calm", saying there'd been "nine victims too many".

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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