World

New Caledonia reopening airport and shortening curfew as unrest continues to ebb

Violence that flared on May 13 over controversial voting reforms led to nine deaths and widespread destruction of shops, businesses and homes.

The French Pacific territory of New Caledonia is shortening its overnight curfew and reopening its international airport (Nicolas Job/AP)
The French Pacific territory of New Caledonia is shortening its overnight curfew and reopening its international airport (Nicolas Job/AP) (Nicolas Job/AP)

The French Pacific territory of New Caledonia is shortening its overnight curfew and reopening its international airport which has been closed to commercial flights for more than a month because of deadly violence that wracked the archipelago where pro-independence indigenous Kanaks want to break from France.

La Tontouta airport that links New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea, with Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore and other Pacific hubs will reopen on Monday, the territory’s high commissioner, Louis Le Franc, said on Sunday.

The overnight curfew is also being shortened by two hours, with its start pushed back from 6pm to 8pm, because of “the improvement in the situation and in order to facilitate the gradual return to normal life”, Mr Le Franc said.

Violence that flared on May 13 over controversial voting reforms led to nine deaths, including two gendarmes, and widespread destruction of shops, businesses and homes. Tourists trapped by the airport’s closure were evacuated on military flights.

With France now plunged into frenzied campaigning for snap parliamentary elections, French President Emmanuel Macron has suspended the reforms, which would have altered voting rights in New Caledonia.

The revolt prompted France on May 15 to impose a state of emergency on the archipelago and rush in reinforcements for police who were overwhelmed by armed clashes, looting and arson.

Both sides of New Caledonia’s bitter divide – indigenous Kanaks who want independence and those loyal to France – erected barricades, either to revolt against authorities or to protect homes and properties.

Pro-independence protesters erected barricades of charred vehicles and other debris, turning parts of Noumea into no-go zones.