New Caledonia extends curfew ahead of elections

Following weeks of political unrest, curfew measures were extended Saturday until July 8 in New Caledonia as voters in the overseas territory prepare to cast their ballots in France’s upcoming National Assembly polls.

The French High Commission in the Pacific archipelago said security forces would remain fully mobilized to organize the week-long legislative elections set to begin on Sunday.

Voters will cast their ballots in two phases to elect their two representatives in the French parliament.

Authorities have also imposed a ban on carrying weapons, sale of alcohol and restrictions on gatherings over the weekend.

New Caledonians have two representatives in the 577-seat French National Assembly, with 19 candidates vying for office.

The first constituency covers the capital Noumea and the Loyalty Islands. The second covers rural areas on the territory’s main island.

The overseas French territory saw massive riots since May 13 over an electoral reform to allow long-term French residents to participate in local elections. The proposals left at least nine people dead and injured besides arson and looting.

French President Emmanuel Macron on June 13 suspended the reforms, which the indigenous Kanak people say would marginalize them. He visited New Caledonia in May and promised that the reforms would not be pushed through by force.

In the wake of the unrest, seven independence leaders linked to a group charged for orchestrating deadly riots last month were sent to France for pre-trial detention.

The riots are estimated to have inflicted around $1.6 billion in damages to private and public property.

France, which colonized New Caledonia in 1853, has a complex relationship with the territory. Kanaks, numbering 112,000 in a population of 300,000, continue to advocate for independence.

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