Violent protests return to New Caledonia as pro-independence leader extradited

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Pro-independence protesters burned police vehicles and blocked roads in New Caledonia on Monday, authorities in the French Pacific territory said, as anger erupted over the extradition to France of jailed protest leader Christian Tein.

France’s High Commission in Noumea said in a statement that protesters had also set fire to the town hall in the Koumac commune, as well as destroyed areas in Paita.

The Dumbea municipal council said a firefighting vehicle was attacked, possibly by gunshots, and some schools were forced to close due to the protests, which began in May after France voted to approve reforms to allow thousands more French residents who have lived in the territory for 10 years to vote.

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Indigenous Kanaks fear this reform will dilute their vote and make it harder for any future referendum on independence to pass, while Paris says the measure is needed to improve democracy.

Daniel Goa, president of Caledonian Union, the biggest pro-independence political party, said in a statement he was “astonished” at the deportation of Tein and six other party officials on Saturday night.

“All they have done has been to organize more peaceful demonstrations,” he said. He denied the prosecutor’s allegations that Tein and the others were sponsors of violence.

Police had arrested Tein, who leads an offshoot of Caledonian Union called Field Action Coordination Cell (CCAT) last week.

CCAT have set up barricades that have disrupted traffic for weeks, and Tein had met French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Noumea last month aimed at resolving the political impasse.

On Monday French loyalist politicians including Sonia Backes and Nicolas Metzdorf said in a statement a third of local business had been destroyed and they had sent a letter to Macron requesting the New Caledonia government be placed under state administration, as it was “no longer fit to lead.”

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

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