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France admits it’s lost control of parts of New Caledonia, the world’s third-largest producer of critical EV metal nickel



France admits it’s lost control of parts of New Caledonia, the world’s third-largest producer of critical EV metal nickel

The French government is moving to regain full control of the Pacific territory of New Caledonia, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc said, as extra security forces arrive in the archipelago to end a week of violent protests by pro-independence groups.

Le Franc said new security deployments, after French President Emmanuel Macron’s government declared a state of emergency, would help reassert control following violence that left behind burned cars, torched stores and improvised barricades along roads.

“Restoring order and calm to New Caledonia is our priority,” the Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said in a statement on Friday. 

The government said it was flying in 1,000 more security personnel from France in addition to the 1,700 already present. It is also setting up air connections to send food and basic goods to the population.

Protests erupted after the National Assembly passed a bill that would allow some French residents of the islands to vote, potentially diluting the power of the indigenous electorate. New Caledonia held a referendum on independence in 2021 that overwhelmingly voted to stay with France after key local groups boycotted the ballot.

“Significant reinforcements will be arriving,” the high commissioner told reporters on Friday. They will help restore authority in “areas that have escaped us in recent days, where control is no longer assured.”

The violence has disrupted nickel production, a key industry for the territory, hitting miners including French firm Eramet SA. The protests were not directed against resource companies. 

The territory was the world’s third-biggest producer of the battery metal last year, accounting for around 6% of global output, according to the US Geological Survey. 

The state of emergency imposed on Wednesday is scheduled to last for 12 days. Government spokesperson Prisca Thevenot told reporters the measure allows authorities to prohibit public protests or require that people to stay in their homes, among other actions. 

The French government said it had also temporarily banned TikTok in New Caledonia, citing security concerns. 

“It is unfortunate that the New Caledonia High Commissioner decided to suspend TikTok’s service – we have received no requests or concerns about content from either the New Caledonian authorities or French government,” TikTok said in an e-mailed statement. “We stand ready to engage in discussions with the authorities.”

Earlier this week, the interior minister Gerald Darmanin said Azerbaijan was encouraging the protests. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has previously lashed out at Macron over French support for its neighbor Armenia. Aliyev accused France of depriving the people of New Caledonia of the right to independence at a conference on “neocolonialism” in Baku in October. 

Azerbaijan has rejected France’s accusation of involvement in the unrest in New Caledonia.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire will meet with insurers next week to begin work on compensation for local businesses affected by the violence. 

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