Australia and New Zealand are sending evacuation planes to New Caledonia after a week of unrest

(Reuters) — Australia and New Zealand said on Tuesday they would send government planes to New Caledonia to evacuate nationals from the French territory, which has suffered a week of deadly unrest over the French government's election changes in Paris.

France's high commissioner in New Caledonia said on Tuesday the airport was closed to commercial flights and the military would be deployed to protect public buildings.

According to the local government, about 3,200 people were waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia after commercial flights were canceled due to last week's unrest.

More than 1,000 French gendarmes and police are on duty and another 600 troops will be added in the next few hours, the French high commissioner said.

Six people died and the riots left a trail of burned businesses, cars and looted shops, with roadblocks blocking access to medicine and food. The Chamber of Commerce reported that 150 businesses were looted and burned.

A burning building in the Normandy industrial zone in Noumea, French territory of New Caledonia in the Pacific on May 20, 2024. (Credit: Theo Ruby/AFP/Getty Images)

The foreign ministers of New Zealand, France and Australia held a telephone meeting on Monday afternoon after the two countries said they were awaiting authorization from French authorities to send security planes to evacuate the tourists.

A meeting of the French Security Council later agreed on the necessary arrangements for the repatriation of tourists.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said: “New Zealanders in New Caledonia have had a difficult few days.

“We would like to thank the competent authorities in Paris and Noumea for facilitating this flight,” he added. More flights will be dispatched in the coming days, he said.

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Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said in a social media message on Tuesday that the Australian government had approved “two flights to assist departures of Australian and non-Australian tourists from New Caledonia today”.

Protests erupted last week amid anger among the indigenous Kanak population over a constitutional amendment passed in France that would change who can run in elections, which local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.

Eden Hayes

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