New Caledonia police detain independence leader and 10 others in wake of revolt against French rule

PARIS (AP) — Police in the restive French Pacific territory of New Caledonia rounded up 11 people Wednesday, including an independence leader, who are suspected of having a role in the deadly violence that wracked the archipelago where Indigenous Kanak people have long sought to break free from France.

The detentions were part of an ongoing police investigation launched May 17, just days after unrest first erupted, into a wave of armed clashes, looting, blazes and other violence that turned parts of the capital, Nouméa, and its suburbs into no-go zones.

New Caledonia’s prosecutor, Yves Dupas, said in a statement that the police round-up started in the early morning, with others detained later in the day, including some who reported to police stations of their own accord.

He said those taken in custody include Christian Tein, a leader of a pro-independence group that French officials alleged played a leading role in weeks of violence that erupted in May over contested voting reforms for New Caledonia. Dupas did not identify the 10 other people detained.

The revolt prompted France to declare a state of emergency on the archipelago and rush in reinforcements for police forces that were rapidly overwhelmed. The violence led to nine deaths, including two gendarmes, and widespread destruction of shops, businesses and homes.

The prosecutor said Wednesday's detentions were part of a police investigation into a broad array of suspected crimes, including complicity in homicide and attempted homicide, armed robbery, arson, and membership of a group created to prepare violent acts. The possible charges allow investigators to hold detainees for questioning for up to 96 hours, he said. After that, an investigating magistrate would have to decide whether police have gathered sufficient evidence to warrant formal charges.

With France now plunged into frenzied campaigning for snap parliamentary elections, French President Emmanuel Macron has suspended the reforms that would have altered voting rights in New Caledonia.

With unrest now ebbing, the French Pacific territory this week shortened its overnight curfew by two hours, pushing back its start from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. It also reopened the international airport that was closed to commercial flights for more than a month.

The Associated Press