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Macron suspends voting reform in New Caledonia that had sparked violence

PARIS (news agencies) — French President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday the suspension of controversial voting reforms in New Caledonia, following a spate of deadly unrest in the French Pacific territory.

The reforms, which would have altered voting rights, are feared by the Indigenous Kanak people who say they would have marginalize them further. The issue has caused the worst violence on the archipelago in decades.

The violence flared on May 13 in response to attempts by Macron’s government to amend the French Constitution and change voting lists in New Caledonia. France declared a state of emergency in its Pacific territory on May 15 and rushed hundreds of troop reinforcements to help police quell the revolt that included shootings, clashes, looting and arson.

Both sides of New Caledonia’s bitter divide — Indigenous Kanaks, who want independence and those loyal to France — erected barricades, either to revolt against authorities or to protect their homes and properties. Pro-independence protesters built up barricades of charred vehicles and other debris, turning parts of the capital, Noumea, into no-go zones.

“The constitutional bill regarding New Caledonia… I have decided to suspend,” Macron said. “We cannot leave ambiguity during this period. It must be suspended to give full strength to dialogue on the ground and the return to order.”

The French Justice Ministry on Wednesday confirmed the death of a 34-year-old man on June 11, who had been injured during a confrontation with police on May 29. An autopsy has been ordered and an investigation into the use of force by the gendarme involved is underway.

Louis Mapou, president of New Caledonia’s government, expressed his condolences and called for calm. “I urge the immediate removal of barricades and a return to peace,” Mapou said.

The French government has extended an overnight curfew across the archipelago until June 17.

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