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Australia and New Zealand are sending evacuation flights to New Caledonia after a week of deadly riots

Australia and New Zealand said they will send government planes to New Caledonia on Tuesday to evacuate nationals from the French territory that has seen a week of deadly riots sparked by electoral changes by the French government in Paris.

The French High Commission in New Caledonia said on Tuesday that the airport would remain closed to commercial flights and that the army would be deployed to protect public buildings.

About 3,200 people were waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia as commercial flights were canceled due to the unrest that broke out last week, the local government said.

More than 1,000 gendarmes and police from France were working, with another 600 troops expected to arrive in the coming hours, the French High Commission said.

Six people have been killed and the unrest has left a trail of burned businesses, cars and looted shops, while roadblocks limit access to medicine and food. The business chamber said 150 businesses had been looted and burned.

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On May 20, 2024, a burned building is seen in the Normandy industrial zone in Noumea, the French Pacific region of New Caledonia.  - Theo Rouby/AFP/Getty Images

On May 20, 2024, a burned building is seen in the Normandy industrial zone in Noumea, the French Pacific region of New Caledonia. – Theo Rouby/AFP/Getty Images

The New Zealand, French and Australian foreign ministers made the call on Monday evening, after New Zealand and Australia said they were waiting for permission from French authorities to send defense planes to evacuate tourists.

Arrangements to allow tourists to return home were later agreed at a meeting of the French defense council.

“New Zealanders in New Caledonia have had a challenging few days – and getting them home has been an urgent priority for the government,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said.

“We would like to acknowledge the support of the relevant authorities, both in Paris and Nouméa, in facilitating this flight,” he added. More flights will be sent in the coming days, he added.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a social media post on Tuesday that approval had been received for two “Australian government assisted departure flights today for Australian and other tourists to leave New Caledonia.”

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Protests erupted last week, fueled by anger among the indigenous Kanak people over a constitutional amendment approved in France that would change who can participate in elections, which local leaders fear will dilute the Kanak vote.

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