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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Guardian staff and agencies

New Caledonia: police arrest pro-independence leader over alleged role in deadly protests

Christian Tein, head of the CCAT.
Christian Tein, head of the CCAT, was among 11 people arrested on Wednesday over their alleged roles in violent protests that swept New Caledonia last month. Photograph: Delphine Mayeur/AFP/Getty Images

Police in New Caledonia have arrested a pro-independence leader, Christian Tein, and 10 others over their alleged roles in the deadly protests that swept the archipelago last month, prosecutors have said.

Tein, head of the CCAT which organised protest barricades across the capital Nouméa, was the only detainee named by chief prosecutor Yves Dupas. He said they had been arrested for “organised crime” offences, under which they can be held for up to 96 hours.

Dupas said in a statement that the police round-up started early on Wednesday, with others detained later in the day, including some who reported to police stations of their own accord.

The prosecutor said the detentions were part of a police investigation into a broad array of suspected crimes, including complicity in homicide and attempted homicide, armed robbery, arson, and membership of a group created to prepare violent acts.

Local media said the police operation caused many businesses, shops and the Nouméa town hall to close, out of concern of further unrest.

Tein was arrested at the headquarters of the biggest pro-independence political party, the Caledonian Union, as he prepared to hold a press conference, the party said. The building was surrounded by police and later searched.

The CCAT is a branch of the union and Tein was among the pro-independence political figures who met with French President Emmanuel Macron during his lightning visit to New Caledonia last month.

Nine people died, including two police officers, during the unrest that took place after France voted to approve reforms to allow thousands of French residents who have lived in the French Pacific territory for 10 years to vote.

Indigenous Kanaks fear it will further dilute their vote and make it harder for any future referendum on independence to pass, while Paris says the measure is needed to improve democracy.

In a statement, Caledonian Union president Daniel Goa urged calm among CCAT protesters and told youth not to respond to what he said was a “provocation“.

The French High Commission said in a statement that the city centre was “free and secure”, as media reported many cars leaving.

The New Caledonia prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Macron said last week he had suspended the voting reform, however pro-independence groups want it completely withdrawn before dialogue over the political future of the island can restart, saying they cannot otherwise persuade young protesters to leave the barricades.

New Caledonia’s international airport re-opened this week, although a curfew is still in place and several thousand French police reinforcements remain.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press contributed to this report

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