Several Killed in Riots After Paris Approves Voting Bill

( – New Caledonia, a French territory in the Pacific, is seeing riots over a planned proposal from the mainland that would change voting privileges and rights on the island.

As of press time, at least four people have lost their lives to violent protests that have seized a part of the local population. Recent events have pushed the French government to declare a state of emergency in the island – an additional 500 police personnel have been sent to help local law enforcement keep the peace, and authorities are authorized to prohibit public gatherings and restrict residents’ activities. A curfew has also been imposed and school has been cancelled, as rioters set fire to businesses and vehicles, with some even looting stores. Most residents have retreated into their homes, and say that it has become especially dangerous at night.

The outrage on the island was sparked by a change in voting rights recently approved by the French parliament that will now allow residents who have lived for more than 10 years in New Caledonia to vote during elections. Previously, only people who lived on the island before 1998, along with their descendants, were eligible to vote. Protesters believe that the new voting law will disadvantage the indigenous Kanak people, who have lived on the island since before France’s colonization of it in the 19th century.

New Caledonia officially became a French overseas territory in 1946. The island is also important to France as it is the 3rd largest source of nickel in the world. New Caledonia has also had three referendums on independence in the past, but all have resulted in favor of keeping the island under French authority.

Proponents of the new law say that it will make voting and elections more democratic on New Caledonia, but Kanak activists and pro-independence movements contend that it will only further the social and economic divide in the island, where one out of three people live below the poverty line. French President Emmanuel Macron has also put a hold on rubber-stamping the voting initiative into law, and has called for emergency meetings —which will include representatives from the island – to help address the crisis.

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