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Australia sending evacuation flights to pick up those stranded in New Caledonia

(ABC)-- The federal government is sending two flights to riot-stricken New Caledonia to pick up stranded Australian tourists as the French Pacific territory continues to grapple with unrest.

Protests have erupted in New Caledonia’s capital of Noumea.(AP Photo: Nicolas Job)

At least 300 Australian travellers have been stuck in or near the capital Noumea, with some saying they have been struggling to get food and essential medications because of the disorder.
Australia has spent the last four days pressing France to grant permission.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on social media that the flights would depart later on Tuesday.
“We’ve received clearance for two Australian government-assisted departure flights today for Australian and other tourists to depart New Caledonia,” she said.
“DFAT is contacting registered Australians. Passengers are being prioritised based on need. We continue to work on further flights.”
Australia is deploying two military transport planes for the evacuation, with both aircraft expected to land back in Australia later today.
New Zealand’s government is also flying its stranded citizens out of New Caledonia, with a military aircraft departing for Noumea after 11am Australian time.
“New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a challenging few days — and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the government,” New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters said.
“We want to acknowledge the support of relevant authorities, both in Paris and Noumea, in facilitating this flight.
“The situation in New Caledonia remains dynamic, and New Zealand officials are continuing to work with French counterparts and other partners, especially Australia, to understand what is needed to ensure the safety of our people there.”
New Caledonia, with a population of about 270,000, has been rocked by unrest sparked by French plans to impose new rules that would give tens of thousands of non-Indigenous residents voting rights.
France has sent 1,000 armed police, troops, and national security reinforcements to its overseas territory.
The violence has left six dead and hundreds injured.
An overnight curfew, state of emergency, ban on TikTok and reinforcements have all failed to stop the unrest.
“We are maintaining our roadblocks in place,” a statement by the so-called Ground Action Coordination Cell said, some of whose leaders are under house arrest on suspicion of being behind the riots.
Rioters have damaged businesses and public infrastructure across the capital.
French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said on Monday that “we are still a way off a return to normal”.
New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s.
Almost two centuries on, its politics remain dominated by debate about whether the islands should be part of France, autonomous or independent — with opinions split roughly along ethnic lines.
Indigenous Kanaks make up about 40 percent of the population but tend to be poorer and have fewer years of schooling than European Caledonians..
New Caledonia held the last of its three referendums on independence in late 2021.
The final referendum coincided with a wave of the Delta variant of COVID that devastated the indigenous Kanak community, and pro-independence campaigners called for a delay in the vote to let it observe traditional mourning customs.
When France refused, supporters of independence boycotted.
The parties have since been unable to agree on a path forward and France has moved to unfreeze electoral rolls, previously restricted to people who had lived in New Caledonia before 1998, and their children.

(Latest Update May 22, 2024)

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