French authorities report a sixth fatality in New Caledonia violence

French security forces have reported a sixth death in nearly weeklong armed clashes in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia

French security forces reported another death Saturday in armed clashes in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, the sixth fatality in nearly a week of violent unrest scorching the archipelago whose indigenous population has long sought independence.

The person was killed in an exchange of fire at one of the many impromptu barricades blocking roads on the island, said a security official speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

Two other people were seriously injured in the clash, the official said, confirming French media reports. The official said the firefight erupted at a blockade in the north of the main island, at Kaala-Gomen.

Le Monde and other French news outlets said the person killed was a man and that his son was among the injured.

This week's violence erupted Monday following protests over voting reforms opposed by pro-independence supporters who have long pushed to break free from France.

Armed clashes, looting, arson and other mayhem have turned parts of the capital, Noumea, into no-go zones and left a vast trail of destruction. Charred hulks of burned-out cars litter roads, businesses and shops have been ransacked and buildings turned into smoking ruins, with fires sending billowing clouds of smoke into the South Pacific skies.

Despite a state of emergency imposed on the archipelago by the government in Paris and hundreds of reinforcements for security services that lost control of some neighborhoods, residents say violence continues to make venturing out perilous. Protesters have blockaded roads with barricades, as have residents banding together to protect their homes, neighborhoods and livelihoods.

Noumea's mayor, Sonia Lagarde, said Saturday that while overnight violence has eased somewhat, with a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m curfew in effect, "we are far from a return to normal.”

“The damage is incredible,” she said, speaking to broadcaster BFM-TV. “It’s a spectacle of desolation.”

“The situation is not improving — quite the contrary — despite all the appeals for calm,” she said, describing Noumea as “under siege.”

The state of emergency gives authorities greater powers to tackle violent protesters, 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. The last time France imposed such measures on one of its overseas territories was in 1985, also in New Caledonia, the Interior Ministry said.

The violence has prompted Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to take New Caledonia off the globe-trotting itinerary of the Olympic flame slowly making its way to Paris for the July 26 opening ceremony of the Paris Games, the French minister for overseas territories, Marie Guévenoux, said Saturday. The torch was scheduled to journey to the archipelago on June 11.

“Our security forces are extremely busy, extremely tired. The prime minister is led, responsibly, to take this decision,” she said, speaking to BFM-TV.

There have been decades of tensions on the archipelago between Indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonizers who want to remain part of France.

The unrest erupted as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French constitution to make changes to voter lists in New Caledonia. The National Assembly on Wednesday approved a bill that will, among other changes, allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections.

Opponents say the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalize indigenous Kanak people. They once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination. The vast archipelago of about 270,000 people east of Australia is 10 time zones ahead of Paris.

This photo provided Friday May 17, 2024 by the French Army shows security force embarking a plane to New Caledonia, Thursday, May 16, 2024 at the Istres military base, southern France. The number of violent incidents reported in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia fell slightly on Friday, a day after France imposed a state of emergency as 1,000 promised reinforcements for security services were deployed with increased powers to quell unrest in the archipelago that has long sought independence. (Etat Major des Armees via AP)

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Credit: AP