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France accuses Azerbaijan of fomenting political violence in New Caledonia

Burnt cars are lined up after unrest in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Burnt cars are lined up after unrest in Noumea, New Caledonia. Copyright Nicolas Job/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Nicolas Job/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AP
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An outbreak of rioting in the Pacific territory has been met with a 1,000-strong reinforcement for local security services.

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A French minister has accused Azerbaijan of interfering in the politics of New Caledonia, the French Overseas territory that has seen a startling outbreak of fresh political violence.

In a TV interview, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said it was "not a fantasy, but a reality" that certain pro-independence leaders in New Caledonia had "made a deal" with Azerbaijan.

He also insisted that the French government had no intention of allowing others to interfere in the county's territories.

"Even if there are attempts at interference ... France is sovereign on its own territory, and so much the better," Darmanin said.

Azerbaijani diplomats have rejected the allegation, issuing a statement decrying Darmanin's statement as "unfounded" and "a campaign of slander".

"We deny any link between the leaders of the Caledonian freedom struggle and Azerbaijan," they insisted. 

However, French social media users, including supporters of right-wing opposition Republicans, shared images from a TV news report that showed pro-independence New Caledonians wearing t-shirts featuring the Azerbaijani flag.

Relations between France and Azerbaijan have been difficult for some time. France is home to a large Armenian diaspora and has taken a hard line against Azerbaijan as it moved to retake control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in 2023, causing thousands of ethnic Armenians to flee.

France's stance on that conflict was mentioned in the statement that Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued after Darmanin made his remarks.

"We once again strongly condemn the French side’s insulting expressions against Azerbaijan and urge to stop the smear campaign against Azerbaijan with unacceptable accusations, such as the massacre of Armenians," reads the statement.

"It would be more appropriate if the French Minister of the Interior recalled the history of his country committing crimes against humanity toward local peoples and the brutal murder of millions of innocent people as part of its colonial policy implemented for many years.

"Moreover, instead of accusing Azerbaijan of allegedly supporting pro-independence protests in New Caledonia, the Minister of the Interior of France should focus on his country’s failed policy towards the overseas territories that led to such protests.

"We once again call on France to stop baseless claims against our country."

Another major tinderbox?

There have been decades of tensions in New Caledonia between Indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonisers who want to remain part of France.

The latest clashes erupted on Monday following protests over voting reforms that passed in the National Assembly in Paris. Lawmakers approved changes to the French constitution allowing residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections.

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The number of violent incidents reported in New Caledonia fell slightly on Friday, a day after France imposed a state of emergency. Authorities deployed 1,000 reinforcements for security services and granted them increased powers to quell unrest.

man stands in front a burnt car after unrest in Noumea, New Caledonia.
man stands in front a burnt car after unrest in Noumea, New Caledonia.Nicolas Job/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

The top French official in the territory, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc, has announced stringent measures under the state of emergency declared by President Emmanuel Macron.

The overnight curfew has been extended for the duration of the state of emergency, which will be in place for at least 11 days. French military forces were deployed to protect ports and airports and free up police troops.

“Exceptions to this curfew include essential public service personnel, urgent medical travel, and critical night-time activities,” Le Franc said.

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He said curfew violations would result in penalties of up to six months in prison and a fine, urging everyone to follow the regulations and help restore order.

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