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France declares state of emergency in New Caledonia as protests rage

France has declared a state of emergency in its overseas Pacific territory of New Caledonia after deadly protests by native-born, pro-independence activists who oppose efforts to expand the voting rights of French residents on the archipelago.

Mainland France is glued to the events thousands of kilometers away — where fires were still burning Wednesday after two straight days of rioting that killed several people and left hundreds more wounded. Protesters have looted shops and torched cars and buildings, in the worst violence to hit the area in decades.

Police have arrested hundreds, and French authorities extended a nighttime curfew.

Masked residents set up roadblocks to block access and channel pro-independence activists at the entrance to Tuband, in the Motor Pool district of Noumea, New Caledonia, May 15, 2024.

Masked residents set up roadblocks to block access and channel pro-independence activists at the entrance to Tuband, in the Motor Pool district of Noumea, New Caledonia, May 15, 2024.

Sparking the anger is a measure to amend France’s constitution to give voting rights to French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for at least a decade. It passed France’s lower house on Wednesday. Both chambers of parliament still must vote a final time for it to become law.

Pro-independence activists in the Pacific territory, including many indigenous Kanaks, strongly oppose the move, saying it will dilute their voice.

“We feel oppressed, we’re angry,” one woman told Caledonia TV. She questioned whether people in France were listening to Kanaks like herself.

But other residents support the constitutional change — or just want peace to return.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has called for dialogue with the territory’s political actors to find a solution on the future of New Caledonia, which was once under French colonial rule. It is now a semi-autonomous territory. In three referendums over the years, its voters rejected independence from France.

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