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Macron said French police would stay in riot-affected areas

Reuters French President Emmanuel Macron speaks in Nouméa, New Caledonia Photo: May 23, 2024 Reuters

President Macron said restoring peace is an “absolute priority”

President Emmanuel Macron announced that the French police force would stay in New Caledonia “for as long as necessary” as he arrived in the riot-stricken French Pacific territory.

Mr Macron said the 3,000 troops deployed from France would stay – even during the Paris Summer Olympics if required.

Six people, including two police officers, were killed and hundreds injured in riots sparked by a controversial proposed electoral reform last week.

Indigenous Kanaks argue that indigenous political influence would be diminished if more French residents were allowed to vote in local elections.

There have long been tensions between the central government in Paris and the pro-independence Kanaks of New Caledonia, who make up about 40% of the tiny archipelago.

The island group, located between Australia and Fiji, has been a French territory since the 19th century. The riots marked the worst unrest since the 1980s.

After flying to New Caledonia’s capital Nouméa on Thursday, President Macron said he wanted peace, quiet and security to return “as quickly as possible”.

“It is an absolute priority,” the French leader said.

He paid tribute to the victims of the riots while meeting with local political and business leaders.

The summit includes separatist leaders, who have previously said they hope it can “breathe new life” into discussions with France.

Mr Macron admitted that the most delicate conversation to come was about politics – and about the future of New Caledonia, the BBC’s Katy Watson in Australia reported, adding that he would have a big job. big in hand.

Police have arrested 269 people since the violence began on May 13 and New Caledonia is currently in a state of emergency.

But Mr. Macron hinted that the state of emergency could be lifted in the coming days, saying: “I personally believe that the state of emergency should not be extended.”

 EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock A car burns and a building is gutted near Nouméa, New Caledonia. Photo: May 22, 2024 EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

New Caledonia has a population of about 300,000 people, including 112,000 indigenous Kanak people.

Under the 1998 Nouméa Agreement, France agreed to grant the territory greater political autonomy and limit voting rights in provincial and parliamentary elections to those who were then residents.

More than 40,000 French citizens have moved to New Caledonia since then.

Last week, the National Assembly in Paris proposed granting voting rights to French residents who have lived in the territory for 10 years.

Because this would require constitutional change, the measure faces further obstacles.

The Nouméa Agreement allows for three referendums on the country’s future. Independence was denied in all cases.

The first two regions show a slim majority in the rest of France. The third, in December 2021, was boycotted by pro-independence parties because it was held during the Covid pandemic.

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