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Business News/ News / World/  France declares emergency amid unrest over electoral reform, 200 arrested: What we know so far — 10 key points
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France declares emergency amid unrest over electoral reform, 200 arrested: What we know so far — 10 key points

France declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia on Wednesday following violent protests against electoral reforms that resulted in the death of one police officer and three others.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)Premium
French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

France declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia on Wednesday, May 15, following violent protests against electoral reforms that resulted in the death of one police officer and three others, according to various media reports.

Armed forces are protecting New Caledonia’s two airports and port, with hundreds of French police on their way to the Pacific territory after a third night of violent riots that have resulted in four fatalities, as per a report in The Guardian.

The report added that gendarmes faced about 5,000 rioters in three municipalities of the French collectivity, including between 3,000 and 4,000 in the capital, Noumea, according to Louis Le Franc, the high commissioner for New Caledonia.

By Thursday, authorities had arrested 200 people, and protesters had injured 64 gendarmes and police. The protesters had put up road barricades, causing a “dire situation" for the population's medicine and food supplies, The Guardian quoted Le Franc.

Here's what we know so far, explained in 10 points:

Cause of Unrest:

Violent protests erupted over proposed electoral reforms that critics argue could marginalise the Indigenous Kanak population and benefit pro-French politicians. These protests resulted in the death of one police officer and three others, according to the Washington Post.

Historical Context:

New Caledonia, a French overseas territory, has long been a site of tension between the Indigenous Kanak population, who seek independence, and descendants of European colonisers, who prefer to remain part of France. This territory lies hundreds of miles off Australia's eastern coast.

Worst Violence in Decades:

The current violence is the worst the region has seen in decades, highlighting deep-seated issues related to Paris' role in the archipelago. Government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot called for calm and a resumption of political dialogue.

State of Emergency Declared:

The emergency was implemented at 8 pm (Paris time) on Wednesday, corresponding to 5 am in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. This declaration gives local authorities more power to restore order.

Expanded Powers:

Under French law, the state of emergency grants authorities the power to restrict public access to certain areas, conduct searches, and prevent certain individuals from entering if they are deemed a threat to public safety.

Government Response:

French President Emmanuel Macron's office stated, “All violence is intolerable and will be the subject of a relentless response to ensure the return of order." Prime Minister Gabriel Attal emphasised the severity of the violence and the necessity of the state of emergency to restore order, as per ANI.

Recent Legislative Actions:

The unrest began as French lawmakers prepared to vote on expanding voting rights in the territory. The National Assembly adopted the revision overnight, but it still requires final approval from both chambers of parliament.

Impact on Kanak Population:

The new measure would allow anyone who has lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in local elections, diluting the Kanak people's electoral power. Under the 1998 Noumea Accord, voting was restricted to Kanaks and individuals born before 1998.

Violence and Arrests:

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reported that “hundreds" of people were injured, including about 100 police officers. Authorities have arrested at least 130 people amid various incidents of arson, looting, and an attempted prison break. Officials imposed an overnight curfew, banned gatherings in Noumea, and closed La Tontouta International Airport to commercial flights, ANI added.

Historical Independence Votes:

The 1998 Noumea agreement included provisions for three referendums on independence, all of which rejected independence. Pro-independence parties boycotted the last vote in December 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

(With Inputs from ANI)

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Published: 16 May 2024, 11:06 AM IST
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