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Australia, New Zealand evacuate nationals from unrest in New Caledonia

NEWCASTLE (AP) – Australia and New Zealand sent airplanes to New Caledonia yesterday to begin bringing home stranded citizens from the violence-wracked French South Pacific territory.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia had received clearance from French authorities for two flights to evacuate citizens from the archipelago, where indigenous people have long sought independence from France.

Hours later, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules touched down in Noumea, the capital. The plane can carry 124 passengers, according to the Defence Department. “We continue to work on further flights,” Wong wrote on the social media platform X yesterday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said 300 Australians were in New Caledonia. It did not immediately confirm whether the Australian-organised flights would also evacuate other stranded foreign nationals, believed to number in the thousands.

New Zealand’s government also announced that it had sent a plane to New Caledonia to begin evacuating about 50 of its citizens.

“New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a challenging few days – and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the government,” Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said. “In cooperation with France and Australia, we are working on subsequent flights in coming days.”

Noumea’s international airport remains closed to commercial flights. Its re-opening will be reassessed tomorrow.

At least six people have died and hundreds more have been injured since violence erupted last week in New Caledonia following controversial electoral reforms passed in Paris.

A plane takes off from Whenuapai airbase near Auckland, New Zealand. PHOTO: AP
Smoke rises during protests in Noumea, New Caledonia. PHOTO: AP