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Australia and New Zealand sent evacuation flights to New Caledonia after a week of deadly unrest

Australia and New Zealand sent evacuation flights to New Caledonia after a week of deadly unrest

(Reuters) — Australia and New Zealand said they would send government planes to New Caledonia on Tuesday to evacuate their nationals from French territory, which has witnessed a week of deadly unrest caused by electoral changes made by the French government in Paris.

The French High Commissioner in New Caledonia said on Tuesday that the airport remains closed to commercial flights, and that the army will be deployed to protect public buildings.

About 3,200 people were waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia after commercial flights were canceled due to the unrest that erupted last week, according to the local government.

More than 1,000 French gendarmes and police are working, and another 600 soldiers will be added in the next few hours, according to the French High Commissioner.

Six people died and the riots left a trail of burned businesses, cars and stores looted, with roadblocks restricting access to medicine and food. The Business Chamber said that 150 companies were looted and burned.

A burning building in the Normandy industrial area in Noumea, French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 20, 2024. (Credit: Theo Rouby/AFP/Getty Images)

The foreign ministers of New Zealand, France and Australia held a telephone meeting on Monday afternoon, after the two countries said they were awaiting permission from the French authorities to send defense aircraft to evacuate tourists.

A meeting of the French Defense Council later agreed on the necessary arrangements for the tourists’ return to their homeland.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said: “New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a difficult few days, and getting them home was an urgent priority for the government.”

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He added: “We would like to thank the relevant authorities in Paris and Noumea for their support in facilitating this trip.” He added that more flights will be sent in the coming days.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a message on social media on Tuesday that permission had been obtained for “two assisted departures from the Australian Government today for Australian and non-Australian tourists to depart New Caledonia.”

The protests erupted last week over anger among indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment passed in France that would change who can participate in elections, which local leaders fear will dilute Kanak votes.