French President Macron pauses voting reform plans after New Caledonia plagued with deadly riots, 'insurrection'

France's President Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday that he would not force through a voting reform in New Caledonia after the French Pacific archipelago was plagued with deadly and fiery rioting, something Macron referred to as an "insurrection," which left 6 people dead including 2 police officers and left hundreds more injured.

Military personnel airlifted around 300 Australian and 50 New Zealand vacationers out of the territory. They reported witnessing arson, looting and violence targeted at hundreds of businesses, homes, stores, and other public buildings per BBC News. The cost of the damage has been estimated in the hundreds of millions of euros, The Associated Press reports. Around 3,000 reinforcements were deployed to the island to assist its police and gendarmes. In addition, a state of emergency was issued by Paris for at least 12 days on May 15.

Macron made the trip to New Caledonia's main island with his interior and defense ministers even as the unrest continued after receiving pressure from French politicians and pro-independence advocates to meet with local leaders and delay or scrap the referendum altogether. He said he arrived “to be alongside the people and see a return to peace, calm and security as soon as possible.”

Up to this point, voting in the territory has been restricted to indigenous Kanaks, who make up 40 percent of the population, and people who arrived in the archipelago from France before 1998. The planned reform would allow French residents who have been in the territory for at least 10 years, an additional 25,000, to vote, meaning the Kanaks' vote would be diluted and would make New Caledonia's independence harder to achieve.

During his visit, Macron urged New Caledonia's local leaders to use their clout to come up with an alternative agreement for the territory's future in an attempt to quell the chaos and destruction. He warned that the state of emergency would only lifted if the local leaders urged residents to clear barricades that were erected in an attempt to protect neighborhoods from the riots.

“Everyone has a responsibility to really call for the lifting of the barricades, the cessation of all forms of attack, not simply for calm,” he said, before addressing the reinforcements. "I will be very clear here. These forces will remain as long as necessary. Even during the Olympic Games and Paralympics."

"I have pledged that this reform will not pass today in the current context," Macron then said. "We will allow some weeks to allow a calming of tensions and resumption of dialogue to find a broad accord" among all parties. He said he would revisit the referendum in a month.

Macron later visited a New Caledonia central police station where he thanked officers for tackling "an absolutely unprecedented insurrection movement.”

“No one saw it coming with this level of organization and violence,” he said. “You did your duty. And I thank you.”

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