Pacific Islands

Riots and unrest rock New Caledonia, Noumea International Airport closes and cancels flights

May 14, 2024 8:32 am

[Source: NC La 1ère/ Twitter]

The Pacific Island of New Caledonia has been hit by days of rioting and looting as protesters rebel against a proposal by mainland France to amend the constitution.

New Zealander Mike Lightfoot, currently holidaying in Noumea, told Newstalk ZB there have been many unsettling moments on the island lately with the election coming up.

“Heading down the coast back into Noumea there was rioting on the sides of the streets,” he said.

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“It seemed peaceful, but the roads were blocked so we had to come through a lot of fires going and burning tyres.”

[Source: NC La 1ère/ Twitter]

Lightfoot said the unrest became more serious as they came into Noumea.

He said a doctor advised them to be very careful.

“There were fires everywhere, major roadblocks and we certainly heard gunshots.”

Lightfoot also said their flight has been cancelled and the airport has been closed.

“We don’t feel safe and have been advised to stay in the complex.”

International media on the ground described burning vehicles, looting and clashes between demonstrators and the police.

At the entrance to the New Caledonian capital, a large factory, specialising in bottling, was the victim of an arson attack and completely ravaged by flames on Monday around 10pm local time, Agence France-Presse (AFP) said.

[Source: Toto Orms/ Twitter]

Several supermarkets were looted in Nouméa, and in the neighbouring towns Dumbéa and Le Mont-Dore at least two car dealerships were engulfed in flames, AFP also noted.

A statement from the island’s High Commissioner said they strongly condemn the public road blockages and the attacks on the police stations.

“The High Commissioner has given the instruction of the progressive taking down of the blockages and those involved in these illegal actions are called out.

“The High Commissioner has called for calm and respect for the public order. The majority of security forces are mobilised to assure the population’s security. No misbehaviour will be tolerated.”

Last week, the French National Assembly in Paris debated altering the rules of eligibility to vote in local elections.

The proposed changes would move the electoral role from allowing those who resided in New Caledonia before November 1998 to allowing any French citizens who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 consecutive years to vote.

Pro-independence parties said it would affect their representation.

The Herald has approached the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment.