New Caledonia independence party says Macron needs to do more to defuse tension

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New Caledonia’s pro-independence political party has told French President Emmanuel Macron it can’t persuade protesters to remove roadblocks across the French Pacific territory because activists aren’t convinced Macron will drop a contentious electoral reform.

At least seven people have died in protests against the constitutional amendment that would expand New Caledonia’s electorate to include recent French arrivals. Some indigenous Kanaks believe the change will dilute their vote, and risk any future referendum on independence.

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The letter from the Socialist Kanak National Liberation Front (FLNKS), which met to discuss how to defuse tensions a week after Macron’s lightning visit, was sent as protester road blocks continue to impede travel and armored vehicles arrived from France.

“Despite several meetings with activists mobilized at roadblocks and two statements from FLNKS calling for appeasement ... this message is still hardly heard on the ground,” said the letter addressed to Macron’s three-person mission, tasked with re-establishing political dialogue.

Macron said during a visit to Noumea last month he would not force through the voting reform that triggered deadly riots, but added the road blocks must be removed.

In the letter, FLNKS said the president’s comments in Noumea were misunderstood on the ground, because he didn’t guarantee the constitutional reform will be abandoned.

“This misunderstanding represents a real difficulty and prevents our activists from hearing the call for calm and appeasement. For this reason, the FLNKS’s political office asks the president to state explicitly that... he gives up on this constitutional reform,” the letter said.

New Caledonia’s international airport remains closed, and clashes between French gendarmes and indigenous Kanak protesters at the road blocks continue.

France has sent 3,000 security officers to quell unrest, and interior minister Gerald Darmanin wrote in a social media post that Centaure armored vehicles had arrived in New Caledonia to help end the roadblocks and “re-establish republican order”.

FLNKS spokesman Jimmy Naouna told Reuters a political solution was needed instead.

“The more military there is, the more clashes there will be,” he said on Tuesday.

There was a risk of growing militarization in New Caledonia, that could lead to the same situation as 1987, he added, referring to a period of violent clashes between French police and independence activists.

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