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Australia and New Zealand Sending Planes to Evacuate Nationals from New Caledonia’s Unrest

SYDNEY  — The Australian and New Zealand governments announced Tuesday they were sending planes to evacuate their nationals from violence-scorched New Caledonia.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong confirmed Australia had received clearance from French authorities for two flights to evacuate citizens and other tourists from New Caledonia amid violent unrest that has beset the French Pacific archipelago where indigenous people have long sought independence from France.

“We continue to work on further flights,” Wong wrote on the social media platform X on Tuesday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said 300 Australians were in New Caledonia.

New Zealand also announced it was sending a plane Tuesday to evacuate 50 of its nationals from Noumea, the Pacific island’s capital, in the first in a series of proposed flights to bring its citizens home.

“New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a challenging few days — and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the Government,” Peters said.

“In co-operation with France and Australia, we are working on subsequent flights in coming days.”

Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia, Wednesday May 15, 2024. Using backhoes to shove aside charred vehicles, French security forces worked Sunday, May 19, 2024, to retake control of the highway to the international airport in violence-scorched New Caledonia, shuttered because of deadly unrest wracking the French South Pacific island where indigenous people have long sought independence from France. (AP Photo/Nicolas Job, File)

At least six people have died and hundreds more have been injured in New Caledonia after violence erupted last week following controversial electoral reforms passed in Paris.

Some 270 rioters had been arrested as of Tuesday, and a 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew was in effect.

France has sent in over a thousand security personnel, with hundreds more due to arrive Tuesday, as it tries to quell the unrest and restore control.

There have been decades of tensions between indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonizers who want to remain part of France.

The unrest erupted May 13 as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French constitution to make changes to New Caledonia voter lists. The National Assembly in Paris approved a bill that would, among other changes, allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections.

Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalize Kanaks who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

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