4 Aug 2009

New Caledonia unrest continues, Gomes pulls out of Forum

1:15 pm on 4 August 2009

The French authorities in New Caledonia say they will remain firm in their response to the blockades and attacks by the USTKE union and its supporters.

Today, USTKE protestors have shut down the administration in Poindimie, with the French high commission again saying that the action is illegal.

In Noumea, employers in turn blocked access to a key industrial zone in protest at the disruptions by the USTKE which has shut many businesses for a second week.

Radio New Caledonia says the employers blockade was lifted as riot police was about to dislodge them.

About 10 USTKE demonstrators have been arrested and the French high commissioner, Yves Dassonville, has told the radio that those who cause the trouble will not win.

The police union has called for the punishment of those who threw rocks and metal pieces at the security forces in Kone yesterday which left 27 police injured.

The violence has prompted the territory's president, Philippe Gomes, to pull out of tomorrow's Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Cairns, sending instead the Congress president, Harold Martin.

The skirmishes of the past 10 days stem from an unresolved labour dispute at the domestic airline which has led to several prolonged clashes during which the USTKE leader was arrested and subsequently sentenced to one year in prison.

The unrest is the worst since a prolonged strike by the CSTNC union in 2006.