Macron to visit New Caledonia as Australia takes steps to evacuate tourists | New Caledonia

French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to New Caledonia, the Pacific territory experiencing a week of deadly unrest sparked by electoral changes imposed by the government in Paris.

In a sign that French authorities believe beefed-up security and emergency measures are putting violence under control, Macron will leave mainland France on Tuesday night, government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot said.

The president told a meeting of his defense and security council on Monday afternoon that there was “clear progress in restoring order.”

The move comes as Australia and New Zealand sent government planes to New Caledonia to evacuate their citizens from the archipelago.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong confirmed that she had received clearance for two flights following the international airport closure and that the government would “continue to work on more flights”.

Hours later, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules landed in Nouméa, the capital. The plane has capacity for 124 passengers, according to the defense department. “We continue to work on more flights,” Wong wrote in X.

According to Agence France-Presse, around 3,000 tourists are believed to be stranded in New Caledonia, including more than 300 Australians and almost 250 New Zealanders.

The New Zealand government said it had sent a plane to begin evacuating about 50 of its citizens. “New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a difficult few days and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the government,” Foreign Minister Winston Peters said. “In cooperation with France and Australia, we are working on subsequent flights in the coming days.”

New Zealand evacuates citizens amid continued unrest in New Caledonia – video

Parts of New Caledonia left outside state control as France sends reinforcements – video

The latest unrest in the Pacific territory of 270,000 people arose over French plans to impose new rules that would give voting rights to tens of thousands of non-Indigenous residents.

The indigenous Kanaks make up about 40% of the population, but tend to be poorer. Kanak groups say the latest electoral regulations would dilute their vote.

France has sent 1,000 security forces to its overseas territory, shaken by seven nights of violence that has left six dead, including two gendarmes, and hundreds injured.

New Caledonia map

Some 600 heavily armed French police and paramilitaries destroyed 76 roadblocks on the 40-mile (60-kilometer) route between Nouméa and La Tontouta international airport, authorities said.

Macron warned during Monday’s meeting that the military would have to remain deployed in New Caledonia “for some time.”

Amid ongoing unrest in the capital, riot bombs, often used to launch tear gas or pepper spray, could be heard in a suburb of Nouméa.

A van drove through a suburb of Nouméa with about 10 masked and hooded men wielding machetes, Agence France-Presse correspondents said.

“It feels like being on The Walking Dead,” said local post office manager Thomas de Deckker, referring to the post-apocalyptic zombie television series.

Sonia Lagarde, mayor of Noumea, speaking to French newspaper Le Monde, said approval of the changes by both houses of the French parliament should be postponed.

The heads of government of four other French overseas territories (Réunion in the Indian Ocean, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean and French Guiana in South America) called on Sunday for the voting changes to be withdrawn entirely to avoid a “ civil war”.

The New Caledonia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) said on Monday that the problems had caused “catastrophic” economic damage, with 150 businesses “looted and burned”.

Barricades block access to Noumea on Monday. Photograph: Theo Rouby/AFP/Getty Images

Paris has accused a group known as the Land Action Coordination Cell (CCAT) of being behind the unrest.

The CCAT said Monday it was “maintaining” the barricades that were in place. Some CCAT leaders are under house arrest on suspicion of having organized the riots.

The indigenous Kanaks had suffered discrimination for too long, the group added, insisting on seeking a peaceful solution but criticizing the French “colonial state’s” plan to expand voting rights.

One resident, Laloua Savea, said: “The islands are on fire, no doubt, but we must remember that they tried to be heard for a long time and got nothing.

“It had to degenerate so that the State would see us, so that the politicians would see us.”

Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.