Cars torched, shots fired as riots rock French Pacific territory of New Caledonia

People in New Caledonia’s main city Noumea assessed the damage on Tuesday after a night of rioting in the French Pacific territory that saw vehicles and shops torched, and shots fired at security forces.

Riots erupted on Monday over a constitutional reform that is being debated in the national assembly in Paris, and which aims to expand the electorate in the territory’s provincial elections.

Groups of demonstrators took over several roundabouts and confronted police, who responded with non-lethal rounds, while the territory’s high commissioner said shots had been fired at security forces during the riots.

On Tuesday, the streets of Noumea bore the scars of clashes between the police and rioters with traffic blocked by burnt-out cars and smoking piles of tyres.

“The police station nearby was on fire and a car was too, in front of my house, there was non-stop shouting and explosions, I felt like I was in a war,” said Sylvie, whose family has lived in New Caledonia for several generations.

Burnt-out cars are seen outside a showroom in Noumea on Tuesday. Hundreds of cars were set alight overnight, as were more than 30 businesses, shops and factories. Photo: AFP

“We are alone. Who is going to protect us?” she said, asking to be identified only by her first name.

A total of 36 people were arrested and 30 police officers were injured, according to authorities, who also announced a nighttime curfew on Tuesday and a ban on public gatherings. No deaths have been reported.

“I can’t talk,” said Joelle Vincent, who owns a supermarket business. “I am disappointed and disgusted.”

The fire brigade recorded nearly 1,500 calls and counted around 200 fires in the overnight unrest.

The violence intensified when lawmakers in France’s National Assembly discussed a draft law to change New Caledonian’s voting statutes, with a final vote scheduled later on Tuesday.

French armed officers stand guard in Noumea on Tuesday. A total of 36 people were arrested and 30 police officers were injured in the riots, according to authorities. Photo: AFP

The proposed changes would allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections – a move local leaders fear will dilute the vote of indigenous Kanak.

One of five island Indo-Pacific territories held by France, New Caledonia is rich in natural resources and is the centrepiece of French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to increase Paris’s influence in the Pacific.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on X that the proposed new election rules were “a moral duty for those who believe in democracy”, but should not stand in the way of attempts to reach a larger political agreement.

Darmanin, whose portfolio includes France’s overseas territories, was tasked by Macron to seal a deal with Kanak leaders on the future status New Caledonia after decades of political tensions.

I thought it was possible for us to live side by side, but it hasn’t worked. There are too many lies
Jean-Franck Jallet, New Caledonia resident

Macron’s office at the weekend said the president would invite representatives of the territory’s population to Paris for talks to reach a peaceful settlement.

In New Caledonia, many businesses on Tuesday bore the marks of attempted break-ins and few shops were open. Long queues were forming in front of the few that are still open.

Hundreds of cars were set on fire, as were more than 30 businesses, shops and factories, according to a group of employers’ representatives.

The group issued an appeal for calm and said nearly 1,000 jobs on the island had been put at risk by the unrest.

The island’s public transport network has also been cut off, with the territory’s flag carrier Aircalin announcing that it was cancelling all its flights for Tuesday.

“I feel sad,” said Jean-Franck Jallet, who owns a butcher shop that firefighters managed to rescue from the flames. “I thought it was possible for us [islanders] to live side by side, but it hasn’t worked. There are too many lies.”

Additional reporting by Reuters



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