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France imposes curfew in New Caledonia after unrest by people who have long sought independence

PARIS (AP) — Authorities in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia announced a two-day curfew and banned gatherings on Tuesday after violent unrest on the vast archipelago with decades of tensions between indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and colonizers’ descendants who want to remain part of France.

The French Interior Ministry announced that police reinforcements were being sent to the island that long served as a prison colony and now hosts a French military base. The ministry said 82 people were arrested and 54 police officers and gendarmes were injured. The airport was shut down and dozens of flights were cancelled.

The president of the pro-independence Caledonian Union party, Daniel Goa, called for calm but said the protests “reveal the determination of our young people to no longer let France rule them.” Goa condemned the looting that “dishonors us and in no way serves our cause and our fight.”

The territory’s top French official, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc, said the capital, Nouméa, had “high intensity” disturbances overnight Monday to Tuesday that damaged video surveillance equipment and numerous stores. Schools were closed on Tuesday, and most businesses remained shut. Hundreds of cars were burned, and dozens of businesses and homes could be seen in flames on videos posted on social media.

The unrest started as French lawmakers debated voting reforms which would increase the number of people who could cast ballots in New Caledonia.

Opponents of the reforms say expanding voter lists that have not been updated since 1998 would benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalize the indigenous Kanak people, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread