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Violence rages in New Caledonia as France rushes emergency reinforcements to its Pacific territory

Violence raged across New Caledonia for the third consecutive day Thursday hours after France imposed a state of emergency in the French Pacific territory, boosting security forces’ powers to quell deadly unrest in the archipelago where some residents have long sought to break free from France.

French authorities in New Caledonia and the interior ministry in Paris reported four people, including a police officer, have been killed in the violence after protests earlier this week over voting reforms pushed by President Emmanuel Macron’s government turned deadly.

At least 60 members of the security forces were injured and 214 people were arrested in the Thursday’s clashes with police, arson and looting, according to the territory’s top French official, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc.

Two members of the island’s Indigenous Kanak community were among the four dead, French Interior and Overseas Territories Minister Gerald Darmanin said Thursday.

“The (French) state will regain total control,” Darmanin declared in a series of interviews with French media.

The state of emergency will be in place for at least 12 days, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said Wednesday.

French military forces were being deployed to protect ports and airports and to beef up security forces’ efforts to curb violence. The curfew has been extended until Friday morning, Le Franc said.

The emergency powers enable French and local authorities on the archipelago to tackle unrest, namely by authorizing the house detention for people deemed a threat to public order and expanding powers to conduct searches, seize weapons and restrict movements, with possible jail time for violators.

The last time France imposed such measures on one of its overseas territories was in 1985, also in New Caledonia.

The Pacific island east of Australia, home to about 270,000 people, is known to tourists for its UNESCO World Heritage atolls and reefs. But tensions have simmered for decades between the Indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and colonizers’ descendants who want it to remain part of France.

People of European descent in New Caledonia, which has long served as France’s prison colony, distinguish between descendants of colonizers and descendants of the many prisoners sent to the territory by force.

New Caledonia became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon’s nephew and heir. It became an overseas territory after World War II, with French citizenship granted to all Kanaks in 1957. The island now hosts a French military base.

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