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Violence Erupts in New Caledonia Over Election Reforms

Mass protests erupted in New Caledonia after the French parliament passed controversial reforms to local provincial elections. The new law, which allows French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years or more to vote, was passed overwhelmingly with a vote of 351-153. The French government argues that this move supports democracy, but it has been met with fierce opposition from the Indigenous Kanak people, who fear it will hamper their chances of gaining independence.

New Caledonia, a French overseas territory with a population of just over 300,000, lies between Australia and Fiji. It forms a key part of France's claim as a Pacific power. The Kanak people, who make up only 40% of the population, have long resented French rule. They argue that allowing French newcomers to vote will undermine their push for self-rule. Since 1998, at least 40,000 new French residents have arrived, significantly impacting the demographic balance.

Tensions over independence have simmered for decades. The hardline lobby group Coordination Unit for Actions on the Ground (CCAT) has led escalating protests since February, claiming around 80,000 participants. Pro-independence groups, including the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), seek to establish a new nation called "Kanaky."

Similar unrest in the 1990s led to the Noumea Accords of 1998, which promised more political power to the territory and its Indigenous population. However, three referendums on independence in 2018, 2020, and 2021 resulted in votes to remain with France. The 2021 vote was notably boycotted by pro-independence groups due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affected Kanak communities.

France views New Caledonia as crucial to maintaining its influence in the Indo-Pacific region. It has a permanent military presence there and benefits economically from access to important shipping lanes. President Emmanuel Macron has called for calm and dialogue, ordering Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to engage with anti-France political parties in New Caledonia. Despite these efforts, the crackdown on protesters continues, with 10 CCAT leaders under house arrest.

The future remains uncertain as tensions escalate. Pro-independence supporters are unlikely to compromise easily, even though the FLNKS has called for an end to the violence. The situation in New Caledonia underscores the deep-seated issues of colonial legacy and the struggle for self-determination.



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