Reinforcements sent to quell deadly New Caledonia riots

France hopes to regain full control of events in New Caledonia "in the coming hours", Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has said, after a third night of riots that have killed four people amid anger over a contested electoral reform.

Rioters have burnt businesses, torched cars and looted shops, and road barricades put up by protesters were causing a "dire situation" for access to medicine and food in the French-ruled Pacific island, authorities said.

France declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia that came into force at 5am on Thursday, and went on to put at least 10 people under house arrest and ban TikTok.

"Sending significant reinforcements, via airlift, will allow for a return to order and guarantee the availability of essential goods on the island," Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said.

Burnt car dealership in Noumea
Businesses have been torched in deadly violence gripping the Pacific territory of New Caledonia.

Rioting erupted over a new bill, adopted by lawmakers in Paris on Tuesday, that will let French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years vote in provincial elections - a move some local leaders fear will dilute the Indigenous Kanak vote.

"Everything's burning, people have literally no limits, because they are literally shooting at each other, I've never seen this much violence," said New Caledonia student Olivia Iloa.

Electoral reform is the latest flashpoint in a decades-long tussle over France's role in the mineral-rich southwest Pacific island, which lies some 1500km east of Australia.

French President Emmanuel Macron's government has come under harsh criticism from the opposition and past prime ministers, who say they should not have pressed ahead with the reform.

New Caledonia's Pacific neighbours also called for a return to dialogue and for the reform to be cancelled.

"These events could have been avoided if the French government had listened," said Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, who chairs the Melanesian Spearhead Group that also includes Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the situation was "of serious concern across the Pacific Islands region".

The French government says it has always been open to dialogue and wants to meet pro- and anti-independence leaders soon in Paris. It has opened the door to suspending the reform bill if there is a new deal soon on the future of the island.

France annexed New Caledonia in 1853 and gave the colony the status of overseas territory in 1946. New Caledonia is the world's No.3 nickel miner but one in five residents live under the poverty threshold.

The protests were organised by Field Action Co-ordination Cell (CCAT), which was condemned on Thursday by France's High Commissioner Louis Le Franc, who drew a distinction between the organisation and the major pro-independence political party FLNKS, which has called for calm.

French gendarmes patrol the streets in Noumea
The number of police and gendarmes would rise from 1700 to 2700, the French government says.

Armed forces were protecting New Caledonia's two airports and port, he said, adding that main and secondary roads in Noumea were blocked by barricades of burning cars and car carcasses, some rigged with booby traps.

There were also confrontations overnight between CCAT members and self-defence groups who are also in breach of the curfew and a weapons ban, he said.

Darmanin said numbers of police and gendarmes in New Caledonia would rise from 1700 to 2700 by Friday evening, with a small number of soldiers assisting.

A representative of CCAT said they did not know who was under house arrest.

Three young Kanak have died in the riots, and a 22-year-old police official died after being shot in the head as he was talking to protesters, Darmanin said. Another gendarme died in an accidental shooting while preparing to deploy, the interior ministry said.

Noumea resident Yoan Fleurot said he has seen looting and destruction of property. Some store owners willingly let their shelves be raided, pleading that their shops not be destroyed.

"The truth is that at night you can't even try to go out," he said. "Caledonia will have a hard time recovering from this crisis."

License this article

What is AAPNews?

For the first time, Australian Associated Press is delivering news straight to the consumer.

No ads. No spin. News straight-up.

Not only do you get to enjoy high-quality news delivered straight to your desktop or device, you do so in the knowledge you are supporting media diversity in Australia.

AAP Is Australia’s only independent newswire service, free from political and commercial influence, producing fact-based public interest journalism across a range of topics including politics, courts, sport, finance and entertainment.

What is AAPNews?
The Morning Wire

Wake up to AAPNews’ morning news bulletin delivered straight to your inbox or mobile device, bringing you up to speed with all that has happened overnight at home and abroad, as well as setting you up what the day has in store.

AAPNews Morning Wire
AAPNews Breaking News
Breaking News

Be the first to know when major breaking news happens.

Notifications will be sent to your device whenever a big story breaks, ensuring you are never in the dark when the talking points happen.

Focused Content

Enjoy the best of AAP’s specialised Topics in Focus. AAP has reporters dedicated to bringing you hard news and feature content across a range of specialised topics including Environment, Agriculture, Future Economies, Arts and Refugee Issues.

AAPNews Focussed Content
Subscription Plans

Choose the plan that best fits your needs. AAPNews offers two basic subscriptions, all billed monthly.

Once you sign up, you will have seven days to test out the service before being billed.

AAPNews Full Access Plan
Full Access
  • Enjoy all that AAPNews has to offer
  • Access to breaking news notifications and bulletins
  • Includes access to all AAPNews’ specialised topics
Join Now
AAPNews Student Access Plan
Student Access
  • Gain access via a verified student email account
  • Enjoy all the benefits of the ‘Full Access’ plan at a reduced rate
  • Subscription renews each month
Join Now
AAPNews Annual Access Plan
Annual Access
  • All the benefits of the 'Full Access' subscription at a discounted rate
  • Subscription automatically renews after 12 months
Join Now

AAPNews also offers enterprise deals for businesses so you can provide an AAPNews account for your team, organisation or customers. Click here to contact AAP to sign-up your business today.

Download the app
Download AAPNews on the App StoreDownload AAPNews on the Google Play Store