France lost control of parts of New Caledonia

French President Emmanuel Macron landed in New Caledonia early Thursday and called for a “return to peace, calm and security” after days of violent protests in the Pacific territory sparked by a proposed change to voting rights. .

“My wish here, with my ministers and the entire government, is to be with the population,” Macron said in a video published on X after landing. “The return to peace and security is also a return to normal services and food supplies, because I know that several people are experiencing a time of great crisis.”

During his visit, Macron will meet with political, economic and youth representatives, and the president said their discussions will address reconstruction, economic support and “the most delicate of political questions”: the future of New Caledonia.

The Pacific territory of 270,000 people has been in crisis since May 13, when violence broke out over plans to extend voting rights to more residents, which indigenous Kanaks say would diminish their electoral influence. Paris declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia after several people were killed and businesses and cars were set on fire in riots.

Je viens aux côtés des populaciones de Nouvelle-Calédonie pour un retour au calme, à la vie normale, à la paix et à la securité.—Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) May 22, 2024

The unrest has also affected nickel production and French miner Eramet SA said it was operating its local unit at minimum capacity. New Caledonia was the world’s third-largest producer of battery metal last year, accounting for about 6% of global production, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Jimmy Naouna, a Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front member, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Thursday that he would be willing to meet with Macron during the French leader’s visit, although no official talks have been scheduled at this time.

Naouna said Macron’s visit could help ease tensions, but added that he will wait to see what the French leader commits to during his stay in New Caledonia.

“It is a political crisis, so there needs to be a political solution,” he said.

New Caledonia is located about 17,000 kilometers (11,000 miles) from France and just under 2,000 kilometers east of Australia. It was annexed in the mid-19th century and Paris granted the colony overseas territory status in 1946.

Under the terms of the Nouméa agreement, which sought to diffuse an earlier political crisis, voting in provincial elections was restricted to people who had resided in New Caledonia before 1998 and their children. The measure aimed to give greater representation to the Kanak population, which represents around 40% of the population.

The latest changes, backed by Macron, would allow people who have resided in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote, increasing the size of the electorate.

The territory has held three independence referendums, all of which have favored remaining part of France, although the most recent vote in 2021 was boycotted by indigenous leaders.

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