7 Dec 2005

New Caledonian union leader Nea arrested following Noumea unrest

5:00 pm on 7 December 2005

French police have arrested the leader of New Caledonia's CSTNC union, Sylvain Nea, who led strikes and blockades during three weeks in a bid to get the SLN nickel company to reinstate two sacked workers.

Local television reports says Mr Nea was arrested in downtown Noumea at dawn.

Police say they acted on complaints by some individuals and the president of the territory's southern province, Philippe Gomes.

Mr Gomes says the French Constitution guarantees freedom of movement and freedom to work but the union action caused damage to public roads, especially on roundabouts.

According to the French Penal Code, Mr Nea could get a prison sentence of several months.

The union action caused traffic disruptions, saw the closure of banks and bakeries and led to the shutdown of the Noumea port whose access police restored in a pre-dawn operation.

Despite an unprecedented employers' demonstration nearly two weeks ago in a bid to get the French state to act, the French high commission didn't intervene and instead called for a dialogue to settle the labour dispute.