First French tourists evacuated from New Caledonia

First French tourists evacuated from New Caledonia

/ 11:12 AM May 26, 2024

First French tourists evacuated from New Caledonia

French President Emmanuel Macron (C) arrives at the central police station in Noumea, France’s Pacific territory of New Caledonia on May 23, 2024. Agence France-Presse

NOUMEA, France — The first evacuation flights for tourists stranded in France’s Pacific territory of New Caledonia took off Saturday, the high commission in the archipelago said, as President Emmanuel Macron’s government sought to defuse the crisis.

The international airport in the capital Noumea has remained closed for more than a week and all commercial flights have been cancelled due to the unrest until at least Tuesday.


“Measures to send foreigners and French tourists home continue,” the high commission, which represents the French state, said in a statement.


READ: New Caledonia tourists ‘ecstatic’ as rescue planes dispatched

The tourists departed Saturday from the Magenta airfield in Noumea aboard military aircraft headed for Australia and New Zealand, according to an AFP journalist.

They will then have to take commercial flights to mainland France.

“I came on vacation to visit my best friend… The conflict broke out and I got stuck,” in Noumea, Audrey, who did not give her last name, told AFP.

Australia and New Zealand had already begun repatriating their nationals on Tuesday.

The situation has been gradually easing for the many people trapped in the territory that has been shaken since May 13 by riots over planned voting reforms.


READ: France’s Macron vows to restore calm in riot-hit New Caledonia

Seven people have been killed in the violence, the latest a man shot dead on Friday by a policeman who was attacked by protesters.

Possible referendum

New Caledonia has been ruled from Paris since the 1800s, but many indigenous Kanaks still resent France’s power over their islands and want fuller autonomy or independence.

France is planning to give voting rights to thousands of non-indigenous long-term residents, something Kanaks say would dilute the influence of their votes.

President Emmanuel Macron flew to the archipelago on Thursday in an urgent bid to defuse the political crisis.

He pledged during his lightning trip that the planned voting reforms “will not be forced through”.

On Saturday, Macron said he would be willing to hold a referendum on the contentious changes, though he hoped that election Caledonia officials would be able to reach an agreement.

“I can move toward a referendum at any time,” he told the Parisien newspaper in an interview.

“Even if the violence ends, we will have to live together again. That’s the hardest thing,” he said.

The pro-independence FLNKS party on Saturday reiterated its demand for the withdrawal of the voting reforms after meeting with Macron.

“The FLNKS asked the president of the French Republic that a strong announcement be made from him indicating the withdrawal of the draft constitutional law,” it said in a statement, saying it was a “prerequisite to ending the crisis”.

In Paris, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said: “The situation in New Caledonia today remains extremely fragile”.

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France has enforced a state of emergency, flying in hundreds of police and military reinforcements to restore order in the Pacific archipelago, around 17,000 kilometers (10,600 miles) from mainland France.

TAGS: France, New Caledonia

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