France to lift state of emergency in efforts to allow political dialogue in riot-hit New Caledonia

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron decided Monday to lift the state of emergency in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia in a move meant to allow political dialogue following the unrest that left seven people dead and a trail of destruction, his office said.

The president’s office said in a statement the state of emergency won’t be extended “for the moment” and will therefore end Monday at 8 p.m. in Paris, which is 5 a.m. Tuesday in New Caledonia.

The decision aims at “enabling meetings of the various components” of pro-independence movement FLNKS, the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front, and allow elected officials and other local leaders “in a position to call” for lifting the barricades to go there and meet with protesters, the statement said.

Macron repeatedly pushed for the removal of protesters’ barricades with leaders on both sides of New Caledonia’s bitter divide — Indigenous Kanaks, who want independence, and the pro-Paris leaders, who do not.

In the statement, he insisted it is “the necessary condition for the opening of concrete and serious negotiations.”

Macron’s move comes after he traveled Thursday to New Caledonia.

The statement said 480 additional gendarmes are to arrive on the archipelago “in the next few hours,” putting security reinforcements at more than 3,500. The seven people killed in shootings include two gendarmes.

The state of emergency had been imposed by Paris on May 15 for at least 12 days to boost police powers. The emergency measures give authorities greater powers to tackle the violence, 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.

This month’s unrest erupted as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French constitution to make changes to voter lists in New Caledonia.

The leader of a pro-independence party in New Caledonia on Saturday called on supporters to “remain mobilized” across the French Pacific archipelago and “maintain resistance” against the Paris government’s efforts to impose electoral reforms that the Indigenous Kanak people fear would further marginalize them.

Christian Tein, the leader of the pro-independence party known as The Field Action Coordination Unit, addressed supporters and protesters in a video message posted on social media.

In a separate statement, the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front called on Macron to withdraw the electoral reform bill if France wants to “end the crisis.”

New Caledonia became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon’s nephew and heir. It became an overseas territory after World War II, with French citizenship granted to all Kanaks in 1957.

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