What is happening in New Caledonia? What is its importance to the world now?

French President Emmanuel Macron called, on Wednesday, a meeting of the Defense and National Security Council to discuss the bloody riots in New Caledonia.

Bloody violence broke out in New Caledonia, a French overseas territory located in the South Pacific, after lawmakers in Paris approved a constitutional amendment allowing new arrivals to the territory to vote in regional elections.

At least 3 people were killed and 4 others, including a policeman, were seriously injured, according to officials in the region and French media reports, on Wednesday.

More than 130 people have been arrested and more than 300 injured since Monday, when protests against the constitutional reform pushed by Paris turned into violence in the archipelago, which has long sought independence, according to the Associated Press.

Where is New Caledonia located?

New Caledonia is one of five island regions controlled by France in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and it is the focus of French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to increase his country’s influence in the Pacific Ocean.

New Caledonia is located in the warm waters of the southwestern Pacific Ocean, 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) east of Australia, and is home to 270,000 people.

41 percent of the region’s population are Melanesian Kanaks, who are considered the indigenous people, in addition to 24 percent of European origin, most of them French, according to Reuters.

The archipelago was named by the British explorer, James Cook, in 1774. It was annexed by France in 1853 and was used as a penal colony until shortly before the turn of the twentieth century, according to the same source.

After French colonization in the nineteenth century, New Caledonia officially became a French overseas territory in 1946. Starting in the 1970s, tensions rose on the island with various conflicts between the Parisian independence movements and the Kanak people.

The Noumea Agreement in 1998 helped end the conflict by setting a path for gradual self-rule and limiting voting to Kanaks and immigrants living in New Caledonia before 1998. The agreement allowed for three referendums to determine the future of the country, all of which resulted in the rejection of independence.

Why is it important?

New Caledonia, the world’s third-largest nickel producer, lies at the heart of a geopolitically complex maritime region, where China and the United States battle for power and influence in security and trade.

Without naming China, French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier that France’s campaign to expand its influence in the Pacific aims to ensure “rules-based development.”

Under the terms of the Noumea Agreement, voting in provincial elections was restricted to persons who resided in New Caledonia before 1998 and their children. The aim of this measure was to give greater representation to the Kanak, who had become a minority of the population.

The first clashes between demonstrators and security forces began on Monday, on the sidelines of a march calling for independence to protest the constitutional amendment being studied by the National Assembly in Paris, which aims to expand the electoral base in regional elections.

The non-independence camp supports reform, while the secessionist camp believes that Paris seeks through this to “continue to belittle the status of the indigenous Kanak people,” who represented 41.2 percent of the island’s population in the 2019 census, compared to 40.3 percent 10 years ago, according to France. Press.

According to Article 77 of the French Constitution, the electoral base is limited to voters participating in the lists of the 1998 self-determination referendum and their descendants, which excludes residents who arrived after 1998 and many indigenous people.

Accordingly, about 20 percent of voters are deprived of the right to vote in regional elections.

Paris came to view this arrangement as undemocratic, and lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment to open the electorate to include people who have lived in New Caledonia for at least 10 years.

Macron said he would postpone its adoption into law, and would invite representatives of the region’s residents to Paris for talks to reach a negotiated settlement. However, he said a new agreement must be reached by June, otherwise he would sign it into law.

What are the updates?

The French presidency reported, on Wednesday, that President Macron is considering imposing a state of emergency in New Caledonia to reduce the escalating violence.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who attended a two-hour meeting with senior ministers at the Elysee Palace, told Parliament that the goal of the state of emergency would be “to restore order as quickly as possible.”

A decree on methods for imposing a state of emergency is scheduled to be presented to the French Council of Ministers later Wednesday.

In a statement, Macron stressed the need to resume political dialogue and asked the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories to invite New Caledonia delegations to Paris.

The statement added, “All acts of violence are intolerable and will be the subject of a relentless response to ensure the return of order.”

French Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories, Gerald Darmanin, said that 100 gendarmes were evacuated during last night’s violence following “an attack on their position with an ax and live ammunition.”

“Calm must be restored,” Darmanin added in an interview with French radio station RTL.

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