In riot-hit New Caledonia, French President Macron says the priority is a return to calm

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French President Emmanuel Macron visits the central police station in Noumea, New Caledonia on May 23. (AP)

PARIS, May 23, (AP): French President Emmanuel Macron pushed Thursday on a visit to riot-hit New Caledonia for the removal of protesters’ barricades and said police sent in to help battle deadly unrest in the French Pacific archipelago “will stay as long as necessary,” even as security services back in France focus in coming weeks on safeguarding the Paris Olympics.
By canceling his previously announced schedule to fly across the globe from Paris to New Caledonia, Macron brought the weight of his office to bear on the crisis, which has left six dead and a trail of destruction on the archipelago where Indigenous Kanak people have long sought independence from France.
Pro-independence Kanak leaders, who a week earlier declined Macron’s offer of talks by video, joined a meeting the French leader hosted in the capital, Nouméa, with rival pro-Paris leaders who want New Caledonia, which became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, to remain part of France.
Macron first called for a minute of silence for the six people killed in shootings during the violence, including two gendarmes. He then urged local leaders to use their clout to help restore order. He said a state of emergency imposed by Paris for at least 12 days on May 15 to boost police powers could only be lifted if local leaders call for a clearing away of barricades that demonstrators and people trying to protect their neighborhoods have erected in Nouméa and beyond.
“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.
Barricades made up of charred vehicles and other debris have turned some parts of Nouméa into no-go zones and made traveling around perilous, including for the sick requiring medical treatment and for families fretting about where to find food and water after shops were pillaged and torched. French authorities say more than 280 people have been arrested since violence first flared May 13 as the French legislature in Paris debated contested changes to New Caledonia voter lists.

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