Macron says he won’t push through voting reforms that triggered New Caledonia riots

(23 May 2024)
RESTRICTION SUMMARY:

ASSOCIATED PRESS VIA AGENCY POOL (AFPTV)
Nouméa – 24 May 2024
1. Wide pan of meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and various local leaders
2. SOUNDBITE (French) Emmanuel Macron, French President:
"I have pledged that this reform won’t be pushed through with force today in the current context, and that we are giving ourselves a few weeks to allow for calm, the resumption of dialogue, with a view to a global agreement. In the light of this commitment I ask here that all the leaders ask for the roadblocks to be lifted, I asked it to the leaders of FLNKS and CCAT movements and I want this to be done in the hours and days to come.”
++BLACK FRAMES++
3. SOUNDBITE (French) Emmanuel Macron, French President:
"Step by step we will take back every neighborhood, every roadblock, every roundabout. And that is why in the coming hours there will be 23 Gendarmerie squadrons deployed in New Caledonia. It will raise the number of existing police forces to 3000, superior to the previous crisis. On the top of that there will be 130 members of GIGN and RAID (Gendarmerie and police special forces) deployed. They are necessary because several neighborhoods are controlled by rioters who decided to adopt almost seditious techniques with heavy equipment and high positions, situations that don’t allow to bring back the order in a classic way."
++ENDS ON SOUNDBITE++
STORYLINE:
French President Emmanuel Macron said on a visit to riot-hit New Caledonia on Thursday that he won’t force through a contested voting reform that has sparked deadly unrest in the French Pacific territory and wants to leave time for local leaders to come up with an alternate agreement for the archipelago’s future.

Speaking after a day of meetings with leaders on both sides of New Caledonia’s bitter divide between Indigenous Kanaks who want independence and pro-Paris leaders who do not, Macron laid out a roadmap that he said could lead to another referendum on the archipelago.

Three earlier referendums between 2018 and 2021 produced “no” votes against independence.

He said another referendum could be on a new political deal for the archipelago that he hopes local leaders will agree on in coming weeks and months after protesters’ barricades are dismantled, allowing for a state of emergency to be lifted and for peace to return.

“I have pledged that this reform won’t be pushed through with force today in the current context and that we are giving ourselves a few weeks to allow for calm, the resumption of dialogue, with a view to a global agreement,” he said.

The voting reform has already been approved by both French houses of parliament in Paris.

The next step was to have been a special Congress of both houses meeting in Versailles to pass changes to France’s Constitution needed to implement it.

That had been expected by the end of June.

But Macron’s comments in the New Caledonian capital, Nouméa, suggested he’s now willing to change tack and buy more time for an alternate deal, perhaps more palatable to pro-independence leaders who fear the electoral change will marginalize Kanak voters.

Macron said he would take stock in one month.

His announcements came at the end of a visit aimed at de-escalating the severest violence since the 1980s in the archipelago of 270,000 people, with decades of tensions over the issue of independence between Kanaks and the descendants of colonists and other settlers.

Macron urged local leaders to use their clout to help restore order.

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