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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Affrontements mortels en Nouvelle-Calédonie

by S.C.

Fatal confrontations in New Caledonia

Translated Wednesday 10 August 2011, by Jayne McKenzie and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Against the background of the high cost of living, fighting on Saturday, between protesters barricading an airport and those who came to try to dislodge them, left four people dead and twenty-three injured.

Four dead, twenty-three injured. The tragic result of the violence that erupted on Saturday at the airport on the island of Maré, in New Caledonia. The fighting was triggered by political and social conflict, setting passengers of the island’s airport against the management of Air Calédonie (AirCal) and the government of New Caledonia, concerning the rise in flight prices, air travel being the primary means of transport between Maré and Nouméa.

With the support of the USTKE (Union for Kanak Workers and the Exploited), airport passengers had formed a collective, blocking access to several New-Caledonian airports since the end of July; however, confrontations degenerated on Saturday with the arrival of three hundred people attempting to move the protesters. Stone-throwing was followed by fatal gunfire leaving four victims, one of whom was a nephew of Nidoish Naisseline, the President of AirCal, who is also an elected official who confirms that the company is on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of the airports being blocked by the protesters.

Yesterday, the French minister of overseas territories, Marie-Luce Penchard, called for a crisis meeting following the bloody violence, and suggested mediation by religious authorities between the groups. The minister also expressed her desire further to discuss the conflict, lincluding the question of land ownership on the island, which she says is the underlying cause of the protest action at the airports. High Commissioner of the Republic of New Caledonia, Albert Dupuy, has made a visit to the island in an attempt to diffuse the situation, which remains very tense, especially as Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to visit the archipelago at the end of the month.

Several local leaders and elected representatives have called for calm in order to end the violence. In France, the Socialist Party has called for strong measures to be taken in order to avoid a social explosion due to the region’s high cost of living and rampant unemployment rates.

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