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Macron heads to New Caledonia as France deploys more troops amid unrest | Politics News

Noumea international airport remains closed as Australia and New Zealand say they will evacuate tourists on military planes.

French President Emmanuel Macron is heading to New Caledonia, the government announced, as hundreds of security personnel will join the 1,500 reinforcements already on the ground after the worst unrest in the French Pacific territory in more 30 years old.

“He will go there tonight,” government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot said Tuesday in announcing Macron’s trip.

Meanwhile, the High Commission of New Caledonia, which represents the French State in the territory, stated that in the next few hours 600 troops would be deployed in addition to those already sent from France.

“The return to calm continues throughout the territory,” the High Commissioner said in a statement, but added that the airport in the capital, Nouméa, would remain closed to commercial flights, and the situation would be reviewed on Thursday.

The government has said about 3,200 people were waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia when flights were canceled last week as violence broke out over French plans to change electoral laws to allow newcomers to vote in provincial elections.

Six people died after makeshift blockades were set up on the streets of Noumea, cars and businesses were set on fire and shops were looted. The high commission said efforts were underway to clear remaining barriers and remove burnt vehicles and other debris.

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand sent their first military planes to New Caledonia to evacuate their citizens.

An Australian C-130 Hercules aircraft landed on Tuesday afternoon at Noumea’s Magenta airport, which normally handles domestic traffic, the AFP news agency reported.

“Passengers are being given priority according to their needs. “We continue to work on more flights,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on social media, announcing two initial flights.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the first military plane would repatriate “50 passengers with the most urgent needs” to Auckland. He said more flights were scheduled for the next few days.

‘Scared’

The civil unrest is the worst in the territory of about 270,000 people since the 1980s and reflects concern among the indigenous Kanak community, which makes up about 40 percent of the population, that changes to the electoral system will dilute their vote. and its political influence.

The voting system for provincial elections was established in the 1998 Noumea Agreement, a result of earlier unrest, and excluded later European arrivals from France. Under the new constitutional amendment, those who have lived in New Caledonia for at least 10 years will have the right to vote.

Viro Xulue, part of a community group providing social assistance to other Kanaks amid the crisis, said it felt like a return to the civil war of the 1980s and that people were scared.

“We are very afraid of the police, of the French soldiers, and we are afraid of the anti-Kanak militant terrorist group,” Xulue told Reuters news agency in a video interview.

Three of the six people who died in the riots were young Kanaks and were shot by armed civilians. There have also been clashes between Kanak protesters and armed self-defense groups or civilian militias formed to protect themselves, France’s High Commissioner previously said.

French officials said over the weekend that security forces had dismantled 76 barricades placed along the 60-kilometer (40-mile) highway linking Noumea to the international airport, but AFP reported that some had been rebuilt.

One of them was manned by a group of masked Kanaks, some of whom carried homemade catapults.

A masked and sunglasses-wearing 25-year-old, who gave only his first name, Stanley, told AFP that the proposed electoral reform means “the elimination of the Kanak people.”

“That’s what they don’t understand there: in our own home we are already a minority,” he said.