Controversial voting reforms suspended in New Caledonia after protests

Emmanuel Macron has announced the suspension of controversial voting reforms in New Caledonia after a period of deadly unrest in the French Pacific territory. The reforms, which aimed to alter voting rights, were opposed by the Indigenous Kanak people who feared further marginalization.

Macron decided to suspend the constitutional bill, stating on Wednesday, “We cannot leave ambiguity during this period. It must be suspended to give full strength to dialogue on the ground and the return to order.” The decision follows his visit to New Caledonia in May, where anger over the reforms had led to weeks of unrest, resulting in nine deaths and significant violence.

Despite approval from France’s National Assembly and Senate, the reform needed a constitutional congress of both houses to become law. However, with the National Assembly dissolved ahead of a snap election called by Macron, the congress could not be held by the June 30 deadline. This effectively halted the reforms, which were already seen as dead by pro-independence movements after Macron’s allies were defeated by the far right in the recent European elections.

The unrest began on May 13 in response to Macron’s government’s attempts to change the French constitution and voting lists in New Caledonia. The proposed changes would grant voting rights to many non-Indigenous residents, which local leaders feared would dilute the Kanak vote and undermine efforts toward independence.

During the unrest, both Indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and those loyal to France erected barricades, leading to parts of the capital, Nouméa, becoming no-go zones. Nouméa’s international airport closed to commercial flights, and repatriation flights were launched for stranded tourists. France declared a state of emergency in its Pacific territory on May 15 and sent hundreds of troops to assist the police in quelling the revolt.

The French justice ministry confirmed the death of a 34-year-old man on Tuesday, who had been injured during a confrontation with police on May 29. An autopsy and an investigation into the use of force by the gendarme involved are underway. Louis Mapou, president of New Caledonia’s government, expressed condolences and called for calm, urging the removal of barricades and a return to peace. The French government extended an overnight curfew across the archipelago until June 17.

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