Extradition of New Caledonian independence activist sparks new violence

The extradition of protest leaders to France has led to police vehicles being burned and roads being blocked in the Pacific.

Violence broke out again in New Caledonia after the independence leaders were handed over to France.

Protesters in the French Pacific region burned police vehicles and blocked roads overnight on Sunday after activist Christian Thein and six others were airlifted to France for pre-trial detention in connection with recent violence that left nine people dead, including two police officers.

The French high commission in New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea, said in a statement on Monday that protesters had set fire to the town hall in the Koumac district and destroyed areas in the Paita district.

Dunbear Town Council said a fire truck may have been shot at and some schools were forced to close due to protests.

Pro-government politicians in France, including Sonia Bax and Nicolas Metzdorf, said in a statement on Monday that a third of local businesses had been destroyed.

He added that he had written to President Emmanuel Macron asking him to nationalise the company because the New Caledonian government was “no longer in a position to lead”.

“surprised”

Unrest in the semi-autonomous French Pacific territory erupted in May when France approved reforms giving voting rights to thousands of French residents who have lived in the territory for 10 years.

Paris says the move is necessary to improve democracy, but indigenous Kanak people fear France’s decision will dilute their voting rights and make it harder to pass a future independence referendum.

Thein, a leader of the pro-independence group CCAT (Local Action Coordination Cell), was arrested last week.

He and six others were transferred to a prison on the French mainland to await trial on charges related to last month’s unrest, which left hundreds dead and injured and caused damage estimated at $1.6 billion.

France has sent 3,000 soldiers and police to the archipelago, about 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) northeast of Australia, to try to restore calm.

“The transfer was planned at night on a plane specially chartered for this mission,” Yves Dupas, the prosecutor in the territory’s capital, Noumea, said in a statement on Sunday.

Daniel Gore, leader of the Caledonian Unionist party, the largest pro-independence party, said he was “shocked” by the expulsions.

“All they have done is organize more peaceful demonstrations,” he said in a statement. He denied prosecutors’ allegations that Thein and others sponsored violence.

CCAT has been setting up barricades and disrupting traffic for several weeks.

Thain met with Macron during the latter’s visit to Noumea last month in an attempt to resolve the political impasse.

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