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Emergency flights cleared for stranded Aussies

A building burns in Noumea

Source: X/Bastien Vandendyck

Australia is poised to send two government-assisted flights to evacuate its citizens and other tourists from riot-hit New Caledonia as unrest continues in the Pacific Island territory.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong confirmed Australia had received clearance for two flights after the French territory’s international airport was shut down.

“We continue to work on further flights,” she wrote on social media platform X on Tuesday.

Wong said passengers would be prioritised by need. The approximately 300 Australians registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were being contacted.

Wong spoke with her New Zealand and French counterparts on Monday to request access to the territory.

Australia’s Consul-General in New Caledonia, Annelise Young, posted on X that her team had been working “round the clock with teams in Canberra and Paris and closely with the French authorities to ensure safe passage for Australian tourists”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Australian Defence Force was on standby and ready to fly as soon as permission was given.

Also on Tuesday, NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters said a New Zealand Defence Force plane was about to take off for Noumea to evacuate 50 of country’s neediest citizens.

”We want to acknowledge the support of relevant authorities, both in Paris and Noumea, in facilitating this flight,” he said.

”The situation in New Caledonia remains dynamic, and New Zealand officials are continuing to work with French counterparts and other partners, especially Australia, to understand what is needed to ensure the safety of our people there.”

Fearful Australians stuck on the island have likened the deteriorating situation to a war zone and there are concerns food supplies could run out.

Melbourne couple Max and Tiffany Winchester have been stuck in the centre of the unrest in Noumea for nine days.

“It’s just been terrifying, really. It’s been very difficult to sleep. All of us at the resort have had one eye open – any noise, we have to jump up, because we never know when we’re going to come under attack,” he told the ABC on Tuesday.

“We can see the fires, but we’re up on a hill outside the suburbs, but we are near the worst suburbs. We do see fires. We do hear noise occasionally. But luckily we’re far enough away.

“We did have the looters come in the first night we were here, making a bit of a ruckus. But they’ve left us alone since. We just don’t know when they’re coming back, and we don’t know what they’ll do.”

French reinforcements have arrived on the island nation. They are trying to stem further unrest, with buildings razed, shops looted and barricaded roads blocking movement.

But local university professor Bastien Vandendyck said the situation on the islands remained tense.

“In New Caledonia, the situation has not returned to calm,” he wrote on a post and video on X on Tuesday morning.

“The roadblocks were reset after the police had passed and the pro-independence rioters continued their abuses: They burned, broke, pillaged and attacked the inhabitants of the Noumea metropolitan area.”

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

Changes to rules about who can vote in New Caledonia’s elections have been slammed by the Indigenous Kanak people, who fear their vote will be diluted by thousands of French nationals who have moved to the island.

They are also angry New Caledonia remains governed by France and want independence.

The island territory’s La Tontouta International Airport remains shut, making evacuation flights more difficult.

Australia continues to urge people to reconsider their need to travel to the Pacific territory.

-with AAP

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