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France lifts state of emergency in New Caledonia to open negotiations

Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday May 15, 2024.
Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday May 15, 2024. Copyright Associated Press
Copyright Associated Press
By Euronews with AP
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French President Emmanuel Macron has lifted the state of emergency in the Pacific territory in order to open a political dialogue after days of unrest which left seven people dead.

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French President Emmanuel Macron has decided to lift the state of emergency in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, in a move meant to allow political dialogue following the unrest that left seven people dead and a trail of destruction, his office said.

According to the statement, the state of emergency will not be extended “for the moment” and will therefore end at 5 am local time on Tuesday.

The decision aims at “enabling meetings of the various components” of pro-independence movement FLNKS, the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front, and allow elected officials and other local leaders "in a position to call” for lifting the barricades to meet with protesters.

Macron repeatedly pushed for the removal of protesters’ barricades with leaders on both sides of New Caledonia’s bitter divide - Indigenous Kanaks, who want independence, and the pro-Paris leaders, who do not.

In the statement, he insisted it is "the necessary condition for the opening of concrete and serious negotiations.”

Macron's move comes after he travelled to New Caledonia on Thursday.

The state of emergency had been imposed by Paris on May 15 for at least 12 days to boost police powers. The emergency measures give authorities greater powers to tackle the violence, including the possibility of house detention for people deemed a threat to public order and expanded powers to conduct searches, seize weapons and restrict movements, with possible jail time for violators.

This month’s unrest erupted as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French constitution to make changes to voter lists in New Caledonia.

The leader of a pro-independence party in New Caledonia called on supporters on Saturday to “remain mobilised” across the French Pacific archipelago and “maintain resistance” against the Paris government’s efforts to impose electoral reforms that the Indigenous Kanak people fear would further marginalise them.

Christian Tein, the leader of the pro-independence party known as The Field Action Coordination Unit, addressed supporters and protesters in a video message posted on social media.

In a separate statement, the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front urged Macron to withdraw the electoral reform bill if France wants to “end the crisis.”

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.

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