A police officer is held in deadly shooting in riot-hit New Caledonia after Macron pushes for calm

The French prosecutor for riot-hit New Caledonia says a police officer has shot and killed a man after being set upon by a group of about 15 people

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PARIS (AP) — A police officer in riot-hit New Caledonia shot and killed a man Friday after being attacked by a group of about 15 people, the territory's prosecutor said, the seventh shooting death in the unrest shaking the French Pacific archipelago. The officer was in custody and an investigation was underway.

The fatal shooting came hours after an emergency round-trip from Paris by French President Emmanuel Macron to de-escalate the violence.

Prosecutor Yves Dupas says the officer is believed to have fired one shot, killing the 48-year-old man on Friday afternoon. On Thursday, Macron made a whistle-stop visit and urged local leaders to use their clout to help quell the unrest that erupted May 13, sparked by proposed voting reforms contested by Indigenous Kanak people who have long sought independence from France.

Macron laid out a roadmap that he said could culminate in another referendum for the territory, after three previous votes from 2018 to 2021 rejected independence. He said another could be on a new political deal for the territory that he hopes local leaders will work on in coming weeks and months.

But he said protesters' barricades must first be dismantled, allowing for a state of emergency imposed by Paris to be lifted and for order to return.

In the meantime, Macron said he wouldn't rush through the contested overhaul of New Caledonia's voter rolls, opening a window for the possibility of an alternate political deal, perhaps more palatable to pro-independence leaders who fear the electoral change will marginalize Kanak voters. The French leader said he would take stock in one month “at the most" of any progress.

“What I ask for, immediately, is for roadblocks and flashpoints to be lifted," he said in an interview with New Caledonia media before jetting out on his return to France early Friday.

“Once we’ve seen that happen, the next step is that we will lift the state of emergency," he said.

In place since May 15, the state of emergency has boosted police powers as officers battle the most severe violence since the 1980s in the archipelago of 270,000 people, with decades of tensions over the issue of independence between Kanaks and the descendants of colonists and other settlers.

A 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is in effect. More than 1,000 reinforcements have been rushed in for the archipelago’s police and gendarmes, now 3,000 strong. The seven people killed in shootings include two gendarmes. As of Friday, security forces had made more than 350 arrests, authorities said.

The La Tontouta International Airport remains closed to commercial flights but military flights have evacuated stranded tourists.

Kanaks fear the reform for provincial elections in New Caledonia will dilute their influence by allowing some more recent arrivals in the archipelago to vote. Both French houses of parliament in Paris have already approved the overhaul. It was then to be implemented with an amendment of France's Constitution, expected by the end of June at a special Congress of lawmakers in Versailles.

But after his day of meetings in New Caledonia with leaders on both sides of the bitter divide between Indigenous Kanaks who want independence and pro-Paris leaders who do not, Macron said he had pledged not to force through the reform “to try, for the next few weeks, to give appeasement and dialogue a chance.”

At the same time, he also cautioned: "It’s not a blank check because we can’t accept violence.”

“The longer it lasts, the harder it will be to backtrack,” he said of the deadly unrest. “Our security forces will maintain this level of deployment for as long as it takes."

Fires, looting and other violence targeting hundreds of businesses, homes, stores, public buildings and other sites have caused destruction estimated in the hundreds of millions of euros (dollars).

Barricades made up of charred vehicles and other debris have turned parts of Nouméa, the capital, into no-go zones and made traveling around perilous, including for the sick requiring medical treatment and for families fretting about food and water after shops were pillaged and torched.

The prosecutor, in a written statement, said the police officer who opened fire and a colleague were driving in an area north of Nouméa when they “were physically attacked by a group of around 15 individuals.”

The officer "allegedly used their service weapon by firing a shot to extract themselves from this physical altercation. A 48-year-old man was fatally shot,” said that statement.

It said the officers' faces showed traces of having received blows.

The prosecutor said he has opened a voluntary homicide investigation into the shooting — customary for French officers in such cases — and the officer is in custody for questioning.

Macron flew to the archipelago under pressure from politicians in France and pro-independence supporters to delay or scrap the electoral reform. It would enlarge voter numbers in provincial elections for New Caledonia’s legislature and government, adding about 25,000 voters, including people who have been residents of the archipelago for at least 10 years and others born there.

Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalize Kanaks, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination. Supporters say the reform is democratically important for people with roots in New Caledonia who can’t currently vote for local representatives.


Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France.

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