Riots force torch relay’s cancelation in New Caledonia

France’s prime minister Gabriel Attal announced the Olympic flame will not be passing through New Caledonia on 11 June after several days of rioting in the overseas archipelago this past week.

National broadcaster BFMTV reported on Saturday that the torch relay had been cancelled, after Attal’s meeting with the parliamentary liaison committees on New Caledonia at Matignon. Together with the president of the Assemblee Nationale, Yael Braun-Pivet, Senate president, Gerard Larcher, and the presidents of each parliamentary group or their representatives, they reached the decision after discussing the crisis that has been raging in the region for several days, in reaction to a reform of the electoral body that is being contested by its pro-independence faction.

According to the Olympic Committee, the Olympic flame was due to pass through New Caledonia for the first time, featuring mountain bike relays, horseback relays and even canoes. However, since the beginning of the week, the greater Noumea area has seen violence spread throughout many riots, leaving six people dead, including two police officers, as well as hundreds injured, according to the local authorities.

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said that “priority must be given to a return to calm” in the territory. “I think that everyone understands, given the context, that the priority really is to consolidate the return to public order, and then to appeasement. Priority to the safety of residents, priority to a return to calm, and priority to the political improvement of the situation,” she said.

Bands of heavily armed French marines and police still patrolled the capital city of Noumea on Saturday, where streets were filled with debris from another night of violence. Reporters working for AFP in the city’s Magenta district saw vehicles and buildings burned, with a phalanx of riot police trying to reassert government control. Overnight, residents reported hearing gunfire, the drone of helicopter rotors and “massive explosions,” what seemed to be gas canisters blowing up inside a building that was set alight.

In addition to the deployment of more army troops, the French territorial High Commission reported that the state of emergency has facilitated a calmer environment since the beginning of the week. On Friday, officials welcomed the fact that violence had subsided thanks to the state of emergency, even though some areas of Noumea remained out of control.

Besides the New Caledonia situation, extremely tight security has been a constant cause of concern for Paris 2024 organisers as the torch travels through more than 450 French towns and cities and passes by dozens of tourist attractions, including the Mont Saint Michel. Around 200 members of the security forces are set to be positioned permanently around it, including an anti-terror SWAT team and anti-drone operatives.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has referred to the risk of protests, including from far-left groups or environmental activists such as Extinction Rebellion. Organisers have promised a “spectacular” and “iconic” Olympics, with much of the sporting competitions set to take place in temporary venues around the City of Light, including at the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides.

The torch’s origin traces back to the ancient Olympics, when a sacred flame burned throughout the Games. The Paris Olympics will run from 26 July 26 until 11 August, followed by the Paralympics from 28 August ending on 8 September.

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