6 Jul 2009

Protestors in Noumea demand release of jailed New Caledonian unionists

6:05 am on 6 July 2009

A large demonstration has been held in Noumea to demand the release of six leading New Caledonian unionists who a week ago were jailed for a year following the May clashes at the city's domestic airport.

Police say 1,700 people joined the march to the seat of government and the French high commission but the organisers put the figure higher, saying 5,000 supporters of the USTKE union took to the street.

The union's vice-president, Marie-Pierre Goyetche, says they're denouncing the criminalisation of union activities and want their jailed colleagues to be freed.

Nearly 30 unionists were arrested after prolonged clashes at Magenta airport where police used tear gas to prevent the unionists from seizing the airport as part of their labour dispute with the domestic carrier, Air Caledonie.

The conflict is yet to be settled as the airline refuses to agree to the

mediation offer, which the union approved last month.