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Three dead in New Caledonia as riots rage after Paris approves voting rules change

Three people have been killed in unrest in New Caledonia, an official said, as rioting continued and stores and schools remained shut on Wednesday after France’s National Assembly approved changes to voting rules in the Pacific island.

The three dead were young indigenous Kanak, said a spokesman for New Caledonia’s president Louis Mapou. He said the information was provided by police.

Rioting broke out this week before lawmakers in Paris voted on a bill to allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections — a move some local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.

French President Emmanuel Macron and New Caledonia’s president Louis Mapou called for calm and dialogue.

French officials said one person had been found shot dead in an industrial zone, with High Commissioner Louis le Franc saying the shot did not come from police but “from someone who probably was defending himself.”

The French government said the change in voting rules, which lawmakers backed by 351 to 153 in favor, was needed so elections would be democratic in the country’s territory.

Macron has offered to hold dialogue between New Caledonia’s pro- and anti-independence camps before a special congress of the two houses of parliament rubber-stamps the bill.

The major pro-independence political group, Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), said in a statement on Wednesday it would accept Macron’s offer of dialogue and was willing to work toward an agreement “that would allow New Caledonia to follow its path toward emancipation”.

On Wednesday morning, Lilou Garrido Navarro Kherachi, 19, drove around protestor blockades in Noumea and saw burning cars and buildings, including a ruined veterinary clinic where the neighbors had evacuated the animals before the fire spread.

Police were outnumbered by protesters, she told Reuters.

One person was killed, hundreds more were injured, shops were looted and public buildings torched during a second night of rioting in New Caledonia, authorities said Wednesday, as anger over constitutional reforms from Paris boiled over.
A man clears a road of burnt detritus left by rioters in Noumea on Wednesday. Delphine Mayeur / AFP – Getty Images

“The real problem is the youngsters who trash, burn and loot. We didn’t see any police deployed on site,” she said.

French retailer Decathlon said in a statement its New Caledonia store had been vandalised, looted and burnt overnight, after 10 years of trading.

The New Caledonia government said in a statement schools would stay closed, after some were damaged.

Macron condemned the violence and called for calm in a letter addressed to officials in New Caledonia that was published on the Facebook account of one lawmaker. The FLNKS also condemned the violence and called for protestors to lift road blocks.

“Residents are terrorized, armed and organizing themselves to make the rounds tonight and protect their homes,” Garrido Navarro Kherachi said, adding gunfire could be heard in her neighborhood.

Most residents were staying indoors. With stores closed breastfeeding mothers were organizing to share milk with mothers who have none left to feed their babies, she said.

Garrido Navarro Kherachi moved to New Caledonia when she was eight years old, and has never been back to France. Although eligible to vote under the new rules, she says she won’t “out of respect for the Kanak people”.

“That would give me the right to vote but I don’t feel I know enough about the history of Caledonia and the struggle of the Kanak people to allow me to vote,” she said.

She said she is fearful for the future of the island nation, which she called “a wonderful country where all ethnic groups live together”.

“I don’t know if the situation will improve.”

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