French Leader Heads to Pacific Outpost Gripped by Deadly Unrest

President Emmanuel Macron of France is making a surprise trip to New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific that has been gripped by deadly unrest for more than a week, to hold talks with pro-independence leaders.

Six people have died and hundreds have been injured since demonstrations by the Indigenous Kanak people turned violent early last week. The French authorities have sent hundreds of police officers into New Caledonia, enforced a curfew and banned TikTok, but they have struggled to restore calm in the territory.

Some local leaders expressed doubts that Mr. Macron, who is scheduled to arrive on Thursday, could defuse the tensions. “Here comes the fireman after he set the fire!” Jimmy Naouna, a spokesman for FLNKS, an alliance of pro-independence parties, wrote on social media.

Many in the Kanak community have accused Mr. Macron and France of reneging on an agreement that had put New Caledonia on a possible path to independence. The source of contention is an amendment to the French Constitution that would unfreeze voter rolls in New Caledonia — a move that would likely tip a referendum on self-determination in France’s favor. Mr. Macron has refused calls to withdraw the amendment.

His trip will be the first visit to the territory, where about 270,000 people live, by a senior French leader since violence broke out last Monday. Mr. Macron will try to “renew the thread of dialogue” during the visit, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told the French Parliament on Tuesday.

In recent days, the police have arrested about 300 people and used armored vehicles to clear barricades in Noumea, the capital, and around the territory’s airport. Nicolas Mattheos, a police commander in New Caledonia, has said some barricades were booby-trapped with gas canisters.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, military planes from Australia and New Zealand evacuated hundreds of foreign tourists from New Caledonia.

“I still feel like a prisoner,” Pierre, a resident of Noumea who asked that his last name not be used for safety reasons, said on Wednesday. “After nine days, nothing has changed.”

The violence in New Caledonia has been some of the most intense since the 1980s, when a Kanak uprising led to a civil war. The peace agreements that followed called for three independence referendums. The pro-independence sentiment was surprisingly strong in the first two and topped out at about 47 percent of the vote. The Kanaks boycotted the third vote in 2021 after Mr. Macron refused to delay it during the pandemic.

The territory, whose economy is dependent on nickel mining, has new strategic value to France as the United States and China jostle for influence in the Pacific.

Leaders in New Caledonia have called for holding another vote, and the proposed constitutional amendment in France has angered them. The measure must still be cleared by a joint session of the two houses of the French Parliament.

The specific details of Mr. Macron’s trip, including whom he was going to meet with, were not immediately clear.

“The country is in flames and blood and the president of the republic is arriving,” Roch Wamytan, the president of the New Caledonian Congress, who supports independence from France, told local news media on Wednesday. “The format of this visit is not good.”

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