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New Caledonia counts the cost of overnight riots

The demonstrations that rocked the French Pacific territory came in response to proposed voting reforms
The demonstrations that rocked the French Pacific territory came in response to proposed voting reforms - Copyright AFP Theo ROUBY
The demonstrations that rocked the French Pacific territory came in response to proposed voting reforms - Copyright AFP Theo ROUBY
Mathurin DEREL

People in New Caledonia’s main city Noumea assessed the damage Tuesday after a night of rioting in the French Pacific territory that saw vehicles and shops torched, and shots fired at security forces.

Riots erupted Monday over a constitutional reform that is being debated in the national assembly in Paris, and which aims to expand the electorate in the territory’s provincial elections.

Groups of demonstrators took over several roundabouts and confronted police, who responded with non-lethal rounds, while the territory’s high commissioner said shots had been fired at security forces during the riots.

On Tuesday, the streets of Noumea bore the scars of clashes between the police and rioters with traffic blocked by burnt-out cars and smoking piles of tyres. 

“The police station nearby was on fire and a car was too, in front of my house, there was non-stop shouting and explosions, I felt like I was in a war,” said Sylvie, whose family has lived in New Caledonia for several generations.

“We are alone. Who is going to protect us?” she told AFP, asking to be identified only by her first name.

A total of 36 people were arrested and 30 police officers injured, according to authorities, who also announced a night-time curfew on Tuesday and a ban on public gatherings.

No deaths have been reported.

“I can’t talk,” said Joelle Vincent, who owns a supermarket business. “I am disappointed and disgusted.” 

The fire brigade recorded nearly 1,500 calls and counted around 200 fires in the overnight unrest.

At least two car dealerships and a bottling factory in the capital Noumea were set on fire in arson attacks, an AFP journalist saw.

– ‘Side by side’ –

While the situation appeared more calm in parts of Noumea on Tuesday, there were still clashes in the suburbs, where a supermarket was looted after being rammed during the night.

Many other businesses also bore the marks of attempted break-ins and few shops were open. Long queues were forming in front of the few that are still open.

Hundreds of cars were set on fire, as were more than 30 businesses, shops and factories, according to a group of employers’ representatives.

The group issued an appeal for calm and said nearly 1,000 jobs on the island had been put at risk by the unrest.

The island’s public transport network has also been cut off, with the territory’s flag carrier Aircalin announcing that it was cancelling all its flights for Tuesday.

“I feel sad,” Jean-Franck Jallet, who owns a butcher shop that firefighters managed to rescue from the flames. “I thought it was possible for us (islanders) to live side by side, but it hasn’t worked. There are too many lies.”

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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