The young people gathered early in Noumea, preparing for action. Soon they had blocked the main road along the waterfront in New Caledonia’s capital with barricades, burning tires and rocks.
Riot police moved in, firing rounds of tear gas and flash balls to disperse the demonstrators, and hours of running battles between Kanak activists and police began.
The clash on 7 December followed a month of roadblocks and demonstrations across the French Pacific dependency of New Caledonia. The protests were called by the “Usine du Sud = Usine Pays” collective, which unites customary chiefs, environment groups, trade unionists and members of the independence coalition Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste, or FLNKS.
The immediate dispute was over which consortium could bid for the Goro nickel smelter and the other assets of Vale Nouvelle-Calédonie.
The company, which began nickel smelting in 2010, is the local subsidiary of the Brazilian corporation Vale, one of the largest mining companies in the world, with interests in logistics, transport, energy and steel making. Vale is pulling out of New Caledonia by year’s end, threatening 3000 jobs.
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