About 500 people demonstrated outside New Caledonia’s main court house last week in support of ten workers arrested during recent clashes with Noumea police. The clashes, which left more than 20 people injured, erupted after 200 police used tear gas and rubber bullets to end a protest by striking bus workers. The workers were demanding that Carsud, a local bus company, reinstate a victimised driver.
The ten workers, which include the leader of the Kanak and Exploited Workers Union (USTKE), have been charged with being part of an “armed mob”, assaulting members of the security forces and damaging public property. They have been remanded in custody and the case had been deferred until February 22.
USTKE has condemned the use of excessive force against its members and the “criminalisation of the exercise of union rights”. Another one-day strike is being called to protest the arrests.
Christian Estrosi, the French state secretary for overseas territories, warned during a recent visit to the South Pacific island that the French government would not tolerate ongoing protests by New Caledonian workers. He also lashed out at the then High Commissioner Michel Mathieu for not authorising police to immediately intervene in industrial conflicts.