Twenty seven policemen were injured yesterday when protests by pro-independence activists turned violent in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia. Our Observers in the capital of Nouméa describe the chaos.
Unionists from the pro-independence group USTKE are staging a general strike after union chief Gérard Jodar was jailed for attempting to ground an aircraft amid a dispute over the sacking of an employee by local airline Airca. The employee was fired after an extramarital affair had been unveiled. Starting a week ago, the USTKE blocked a number of industrial zones, prompting an intervention by riot police on Monday.
The events have been compared with the fierce violence that took hold of the island between 1984 and 1988, when dozens were killed.
"People have told me that they're getting ready to take out their rifles"
Seleone Tuulaki is an engineer from Nouméa. After spending several years in France, he returned to settle in New Caledonia a few months ago.
I was at the demonstrations on Friday. Protestors threw stones, and in return, the riot police let off tear gas and forcibly removed people who were blocking the route. The situation is still very tense today; we're worried that it will escalate into something similar to the chaos of the eighties. People have told me that they're getting ready to take out their rifles.
We face common problems here in New Caledonia. We want to take control of our island in order to be able to provide jobs, at every level, to our youth. And the French state needs to play by the rules.
Of course we think of independence. Today we need to build foundations for an independence that will be possible in 70 or 80 years. From now on we need to start transferring skills - that would appease the islanders and lead to a win-win solution. The way it was handled 20 years ago is not how we should go about it this time."
"The worst bit is that an extramarital affair has caused all of this"
Franck Theriaud, a web developer, is originally from mainland France. He's been living in New Caledonia for 22 years.
The events of this week bring back memories of 1984. While the USKTE is demanding that their leader is released, he's just been sentenced to a year in prison. He'll never be freed. We're really in a jam. Although the USKTE comprises less than 500 people, they've managed to block the entire island. And they're trying to seduce disillusioned youth into it.
The worst bit is that an extramarital affair has caused all of this! [The dispute was sparked when an airline employee told her mother that her father had boarded a plane with his mistress, a move that was considered a breach of professional discretion and which resulted in her being sacked].
Once again the USKTE is taking advantage of a ‘situation' in order to push its independence ideas. We're praying that it won't end in deaths this time."
Clashes in Koné