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Macron crisis with three dead as violence sweeps remote paradise island owned by France


New Caledonia has descended into violent chaos this week, with at least three people killed during riots and more than 130 arrested. Unrest erupted on the remote French-ruled Pacific island paradise following a move in Paris to change the territory’s voting rules.

For the past three days, anger has boiled over into the streets with armed gangs of youths torching vehicles and looting stores. French President Emmanuel Macron, who has sought to re-assert his country’s role in the Pacific region, cancelled a trip he had been planning to northwest France on Wednesday to focus on the crisis.

President Macron convened a meeting of top ministers, including Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and the ministers for defense, interior, economy and foreign affairs, to discuss the ongoing unrest.

He also pleaded for calm on the island in a letter to New Caledonian representatives. President Macron urged them to “unambiguously condemn all this violence” and “call for calm” as discussions over the territory’s future continue.

On Tuesday, the French Interior Ministry sent police reinforcements to New Caledonia, which historically served as a prison colony for France and now hosts a French military base. Four gendarmerie squadrons are being deployed as reinforcements, including 15 gendarmes from an elite intervention unit.

Authorities have also imposed a curfew, banned public gatherings and closed the main airport. The curfew has been extended to Thursday. Many shops and schools remain shut on the island.

The riots broke out this week after Paris pushed constitutional reform onto the archipelago, which has called for independence. The French National Assembly passed a bill to allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections – a move some local leaders fear will dilute the indigenous Kanak vote which makes up about 41 percent of the population.

There have been historic tensions simmering on the island between indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of French colonisers who want to remain part of France.

An anti-independence leader, Sonia Backes, said that the riots amounted to “anti-white” racism. The former minister complained that mobs of youths had burned down her elderly father’s house because of his race.

Ms Backes said: “If he was not attacked because he was my father, he was at least attacked because he was white.”

However, pro-independence leader Daniel Goa, who condemned the looting, argued that the unrest showed “the determination of our young people to no longer let France take control of them”.

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