8 Aug 2011

French authorities step in over violence on New Caledonia's Mare Island

7:21 am on 8 August 2011

The French authorities are trying to defuse tensions on the New Caledonian island of Mare after Saturday's firefight which left four people dead.

The clashes involved hundreds of locals as some tried unsuccessfully to dislodge disgruntled demonstrators who have been occupying the island's airport for more than two weeks in protest at domestic air fare hikes.

Walter Zweifel reports.

"The French High Commissioner Albert Dupuy has sent more than 100 police officers and soldiers to Mare and met the protesters after Saturday's fatal clashes which left more than 20 people injured. He was joined by the chairman of Air Caledonie, Nidoish Naisseline, who is also chief of Mare's Ghuama district whose residents have been trying to clear the airport. The President Harold Martin says he's extremely shocked at the violence, insisting that alcohol was a factor. The unrest has alarmed Paris and prompted the overseas territories minister, Marie-Luce Penchard, to interrupt her holiday in Guadeloupe to coordinate a response. There have been no arrests so far."