French President Emmanuel Macron is to visit violence-hit New Caledonia

AP , Tuesday 21 May 2024

French President Emmanuel Macron is making a surprise trip to riot-hit New Caledonia, signalling French authorities’ growing confidence that reinforced security and emergency measures are bringing deadly unrest on the French Pacific territory under control.

Bystanders hold a flag of the Socialist Kanak National Liberation Front (FLNKS) on a roadblock in Du
Bystanders hold a flag of the Socialist Kanak National Liberation Front (FLNKS) on a roadblock in Ducos, France s Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. AFP

 

Government spokesperson Prisca Thevenot announced the trip, which required a shake-up of Macron’s schedule. “He will go there tonight,” she said after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday where the president announced that he had decided to travel there himself.

Macron had previously been scheduled in Normandy, northern France, on Wednesday. Instead, he will be flying to the archipelago 10 time zones away from Paris, east of Australia, that has been gripped by deadly armed clashes, looting, arson and other mayhem, with six people killed, including two gendarmes, in the past week.

Paris last Wednesday declared a 12-day minimum state of emergency on the island where indigenous people have long sought independence from France and rushed in 1,000 reinforcements to bolster security forces that lost control of some parts of the capital, Nouméa.

“Faced with the outbreak of violence, the priority is the return of order to allow dialogue to resume in New Caledonia," Thevenot, the government spokeswoman, said.

“The return to calm is starting to arrive. The situation isn’t quite totally normalized, but the situation is improving. We are clear: Much remains to be done before the return to normal. The government is fully mobilized."

A priority for French authorities since the weekend has been clearing the highway to Nouméa's international airport of barricades and the burned hulks of vehicles, raising the prospect for stranded tourists of finally being able to leave.

Australia and New Zealand sent planes to New Caledonia on Tuesday to begin bringing home stranded citizens.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia had received clearance from French authorities for two evacuation flights.

Hours later, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules touched down in Nouméa. The plane can carry 124 passengers, according to the Defense Department.

“We continue to work on further flights,” Wong wrote on the social media platform X on Tuesday.

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