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Why this French island in the Pacific is being roiled by violence over a vote held 10,000 miles away


Deadly violence on the French island of New Caledonia erupted for a third day Wednesday, with armed clashes between protesters, militias and police, and buildings and cars set on fire in the capital of the South Pacific archipelago.

At least three people have been shot dead during the unrest, which is considered the worst since the 1980s, and prompted authorities to impose a curfew in the capital Noumea. It has also banned public gatherings, carrying weapons and selling alcohol, and closed the main airport — usually a busy tourist hub – to commercial traffic.

The violence is the latest outburst of political tensions that have simmered for years and pitted the island’s largely pro-independence indigenous Kanak communities – who have long chafed against rule by Paris – against French inhabitants opposed to breaking ties with their motherland.

France’s military has mobilized and flown in “four additional squadrons to restore order,” according to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

Lying in the South Pacific with Australia, Fiji and Vanuatu for neighbors, New Caledonia is a semiautonomous French territory – one of a dozen scattered throughout the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean.

Protests began Monday involving mostly young people, in response to the tabling of a vote 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) away in the French parliament proposing changes to New Caledonia’s constitution that would give greater voting rights to French residents living on the islands.

On Tuesday, legislators voted overwhelmingly in favor of the change.

The move would add thousands of extra voters to New Caledonia’s electoral rolls, which have not been updated since the late 1990s. Pro-independence groups say the changes are an