New Caledonia Airport to Remain Closed Until at Least June 2 Amid Ongoing Unrest

PARIS – New Caledonia’s international airport will remain closed until at least June 2, following nearly two weeks of unrest triggered by a contested electoral reform. The closure continues as the island grapples with the aftermath of riots that have resulted in the deaths of seven people and widespread damage to property.

The riots have seen cars and businesses torched and shops looted, exacerbating tensions on the French-ruled Pacific island. French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited New Caledonia on Thursday in an attempt to quell the unrest, has temporarily paused the reform. However, this measure has not satisfied pro-independence parties, who demand the reform be completely shelved.

In an interview with Le Parisien, Macron described the pause as “a gesture of appeasement” but firmly stated that he would not make decisions under the pressure of violence. “I will never make a decision to postpone or suspend under the pressure of violence,” he asserted.

Should the island’s pro and anti-independence factions fail to reach a consensus on New Caledonia’s future, Macron indicated he might either convene a special congress of the two houses of parliament to ratify the electoral reform or call for a referendum.

Macron also called on pro-independence protesters, who have vowed to maintain their mobilization, to dismantle their barricades. He emphasized that while there is a political dimension to the violence, many acts of rioting, such as looting and arson, are acts of “high banditry” unrelated to the independence movement.

New Caledonia, annexed by France in 1853 and given the status of an overseas territory in 1946, is a significant global nickel producer. Despite its natural resources, the sector is struggling, and one in five residents live below the poverty line. The electoral rolls were frozen in 1998 under the Noumea Accord, which aimed to end a decade of violence and establish a path to greater autonomy.

Protesters fear that the proposed electoral reform will dilute the voting power of the indigenous Kanak population, who constitute 40% of the island’s 270,000 residents. The ongoing unrest underscores the deep-seated tensions and challenges facing New Caledonia as it navigates its complex political and social landscape.