France’s Macron considers declaring state of emergency in New Caledonia amid violent unrest

French President Emmanuel Macron is considering imposing a state of emergency in the territory of New Caledonia to curb escalating violence, the presidency said Wednesday. At least three people were killed and four others, including a gendarme, were seriously injured, according to officials in the territory and French media reports on Wednesday. More than 130 people have been arrested and more than 300 have been injured since Monday, when protests over a constitutional reform pushed by Paris turned violent in the archipelago, which has long sought independence. Speaking at parliament, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who attended a two-hour meeting with top ministers at the Elysee, said the aim of the state of emergency would be “to restore order in the shortest time possible.” A decree on the methods to impose the state of emergency is to be presented to the French Cabinet on Wednesday afternoon. In a statement, Macron emphasized the need for a resumption of political dialogue and asked the prime minister and the minister of the interior and overseas territories to invite New Caledonian delegations to Paris. “All violence is intolerable and will be the subject of a relentless response to ensure the return of order,” the statement said. There have been decades of tensions on the archipelago between Indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonizers who want to remain part of France. French Minister of Interior and Overseas Territories Gérald Darmanin said that 100 gendarmes were evacuated during violence overnight following “an attack on their station with an ax and live ammunition.” “Calm must absolutely be restored,” Darmanin said in an interview with French broadcaster RTL. On Tuesday, the French Interior Ministry sent to New Caledonia, which long served as a prison colony and now hosts a French military base. About 1,000 gendarmes and 700 police officers have been deployed and a dozen professionals from a specialized police intervention and riot control unit have also been mobilized, the territory’s top French official, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc, said at a news conference in New Caledonia. The territory’s political parties appealed for “calm and reason” with people who support independence and those who want the island to remain part of France. “We have to continue to live together,” the rival parties said in a joint statement on Wednesday. “Only with dialogue and resilience (we will) get through this situation.” Two people were killed and three seriously injured in the unrest overnight, Le Franc said in an interview with France Info broadcaster. A fourth person, a member of the gendarmes, was also seriously injured near the southern town of Plum, according to France Info. He was evacuated in critical condition to the medical unit of the Pacific Marine Infantry Regiment, French broadcaster BFM reported. Le Franc warned that if calm isn’t restored, there will be “many deaths” in the area of the capital, Noumea, where protests over the voting rights turned violent on Tuesday. Local authorities extended a curfew until Thursday morning. Clashes between police and protesters have continued in and around Noumea despite the curfew and a ban on gatherings. Schools have been closed “until further notice” and the main airport, La Tontoura, “remains closed to commercial flights,” Le Franc said. “The situation is not serious, it is very serious,” Le Franc said. “We have entered a dangerous spiral, a deadly spiral.” He said some residents of the capital have formed “self-defense groups” to protect their homes and businesses. The unrest started on Monday with a protest over France’s efforts to expand voter lists that would benefit pro-France politicians on New Caledonia and further marginalize the Kanak people, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination. Early Wednesday, France’s National Assembly adopted a constitutional revision reforming the electoral body in the territory in a 351-153 vote. Pro-independence representatives appealed to supporters for calm and condemned the vote in the National Assembly, France’s most influential house of parliament. Macron also appealed for calm after the vote and condemned “unworthy violence” in a letter to Caledonian representatives and political parties. He called on all local politicians to engage in dialogue and submit suggestions for changes to the bill. Macron said he would convene the Congress, a joint session of lawmakers from both houses of the French parliament, by the end of June to amend the constitution and make it law in the absence of a meaningful dialogue with local representatives. would allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections. People of European descent in New Caledonia distinguish between descendants of colonizers and descendants of the many prisoners sent to the territory by force. The vast archipelago of about 270,000 people east of Australia is 10 time zones ahead of Paris. New Caledonia became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon’s nephew and heir. It became an overseas territory after World War II, with French citizenship granted to all Kanaks in 1957. A peace deal between rival factions was reached in 1988. A decade later, France promised to grant New Caledonia political power and broad autonomy and hold up to three successive referendums. The three referendums were organized between 2018 to 2021 and a majority of voters chose to remain part of France instead of backing independence. The pro-independence Kanak people rejected the results of the last referendum in 2021, which they boycotted because it was held at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.