Unrest in New Caledonia | God's World News

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Unrest in New Caledonia

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    An airplane takes off from Whenuapai airbase near Auckland, New Zealand, bound for Noumea, New Caledonia, to rescue stranded New Zealand tourists on May 21, 2024. (Michael Craig/NZ Herald via AP)
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    Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia, on May 15, 2024. Using backhoes to shove aside charred vehicles, French security forces worked on May 19, 2024, to retake control of the highway to the international airport in New Caledonia. (AP/Nicolas Job)
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    Australian and other tourists board an Australian Airforce Hercules as they prepare to depart Noumea, New Caledonia, on May 21, 2024. (LAC Adam Abela/Royal Australian Airfare via AP)
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Australia and New Zealand sent airplanes to New Caledonia on Tuesday. The countries will bring home stranded citizens from the violence-wracked French South Pacific territory. But tensions between Indigenous citizens and descendants of French colonizers continue to fester.

New Caledonia is a group of 140 Pacific islands about 900 miles east of Australia. France has controlled the territory since the 1850s. The islands have experienced decades of unrest. Indigenous Kanaks seek independence from France. Meanwhile, many descendants of colonizers want to remain part of France.

On May 13, the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French Constitution. Under discussion were changes to New Caledonia voter lists. Paris lawmakers approved a bill that would allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 or more years to cast ballots in elections.

Riots erupted.

Critics say the Paris measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia. They also share concerns that such a bill could further sideline Kanaks. These Indigenous residents historically suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

Armed clashes, looting, arson, and other violence turned parts of Noumea, the capital, into no-go zones. Columns of smoke billowed into the sky. Burned cars littered roads. Businesses and shops lay ransacked. Buildings became smoking ruins.

At least six people have died in the fighting. Hundreds more have been injured.

Officers had arrested about 270 suspected rioters as of Tuesday. A 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew is in effect for the island chain of about 270,000 people.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong says French authorities gave clearance for two flights. The planes would evacuate Australian citizens. On Tuesday, a Royal Australian Air Force plane touched down in the capital.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says 300 Australians were in New Caledonia. It did not confirm whether the Australian flights would also evacuate other stranded foreign nationals. That group could number in the thousands.

New Zealand’s government also sent a plane to New Caledonia. It will begin evacuating about 50 New Zealand citizens.

“New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a challenging few days—and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the government,” Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says. “In cooperation with France and Australia, we are working on subsequent flights in coming days.”

Noumea’s airport remains closed to commercial flights. Officials will reassess its reopening on Thursday.

France sent in over a thousand personnel. Hundreds more are due to arrive on Tuesday. Security forces will try to quell the unrest and restore control.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron decided to make the more than 20,000-mile round trip to view the destruction for himself. He will meet elected officials and local representatives. Talks will be focused on politics and on the reconstruction of the island, aides say.

And he’s not wasting any time. On Tuesday, government spokesperson Prisca Thevenot said, “He will go there tonight.”