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A plume of black smoke in Noumēa during the civil unrest this week.

Photo: Twitter/@ncla1ere

Pacific Region

'Very sad': Business owner says long road to recovery ahead

Death toll rises: Violent unrest continues in Noumēa as France declares state of emergency.

New Caledonia’s business community has been left reeling following deadly riots by pro-independence supporters in response to controversial constitutional reform for the French territory.

At least four people have been killed and dozens of shops torched in the capital Noumēa with schools, government services, and the international airport shut down.

France's President Emmanuel Macron declared a state of emergency and warned that any continued violence would be met with a strong response.

The founder and owner of Pacific Market, Christiane Waneissi, says she fears that the longer the unrest continues, the harder it will be for the country’s economy to recover.

Watch Christiane Waneissi's interview below.

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Waneissi said it’s been a “very difficult situation” and she feared for those caught in the crossfire.

“Many shops, businesses, buildings, supermarkets were burned and looted and neighbourhood militia have been formed to secure housing because the police have been completely overwhelmed,” she told Pacific Mornings’ William Terite.

“From our home, we have been hearing explosions and yeah since two days. Also gunshots and a curfew was in place since Tuesday so we are confined to our homes.

“My family is safe and in the islands, there's no troubles in the North neither it's only I mean the protests and the riots were only in the capital city and suburbs.”

Monday’s protests erupted over proposals in Paris to grant French residents, who have lived in the territory for 10 years, voting rights in the province.

The changes were approved by the French parliament on Wednesday and several leaders of the indigenous Kanak people - who make up about 40 per cent of the population - were not happy, saying they feared the changes would further impact their political influence.

The Kanaks have been calling for independence for more than 30 years, Waneissi said, and a referendum held in December 2021 - the third and final vote under the Noumēa Accord - rejected self-rule by 96 per cent. But the vote was boycotted by the Kanaks who called for a postponement because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“According to many communiquē issued by the CCAT, which is the committee in charge of the coordination of the actions, it is a humiliation from Paris because after 36 years of the Noumēa Accord, Paris is still taking decisions for the country and on behalf of the country and they [Kanaks] don't agree with this so yes I think it's still seen as a humiliation for the Kanak community.

Torched vehicles in a car yard in Noumēa. Photo: AFP/Theo Rouby

“We are torn between very pragmatic needs and concerns. How are people going to get medications, and food because the supermarkets are burned? We are still facing existential questions.

“How will New Caledonia recover from this? The economic network is completely down. We are still waiting for more responsibilities from the political leaders here.”

Waneissi is calling on leaders from both camps, the pro-independence and French government, to hold urgent meaningful dialogue to end the standoff.

She said the sooner tensions are reduced, “we can return to an apparently normal life. We have to. Not only for the Kanaks but for everyone in New Caledonia. We are waiting and expecting this.

“We know that it will take maybe weeks or months to recover because we were not prepared for the high-level insecurity and bad situation.”

Macron has cancelled a visit to the territory but said he would deploy troops to secure ports and the main airport.

Watch Christiane Waneissi's interview below.