New Caledonia ‘under siege’ as French troops bid to restore order

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People wait in line to buy provisions from a supermarket as charred items previously set on fire are seen following overnight unrest in the Magenta district of Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 18, 2024. (AFP)
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Police patrol a street blocked by debris and burnt out items following overnight unrest in the Magenta district of Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 18, 2024. (AFP)
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French security personnel use armored vehicles to restore order in the Pacific island territory of New Caledonia on May 18, after a fifth night of riots, looting and unrest. (AFP)
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Updated 19 May 2024
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New Caledonia ‘under siege’ as French troops bid to restore order

  • The unrest has been blamed on economic malaise, social tensions and — above all — a political fight between mostly Indigenous pro-independence activists and Paris authorities
  • New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s

NOUMEA, New Caledonia: French Pacific territory New Caledonia was “under siege” Saturday, the mayor of its capital Noumea said, after another person was killed, bringing the toll to six in six days of unrest.

Two other men were wounded in Saturday’s deadly incident, which occurred in the archipelago’s northern Kaala-Gomen area, General Nicolas Mattheos said.
Hundreds of heavily armed French soldiers and police patrolled the debris-filled streets of Noumea Saturday.
But Philippe Blaise, vice president of the territory’s southern province, said: “Today, the rule of law, security for citizens, are not back in place everywhere in (New) Caledonia.”
And Noumea mayor Sonia Lagarde told news channel BFMTV: “We’re far from getting back to calm.”
Anger is still high over a contested voting reform, even after the arrival of hundreds of military and police reinforcements.
AFP reporters in the city’s Magenta district saw vehicles and buildings torched, with riot police on the scene trying to reassert control.
Overnight, residents reported hearing gunfire, helicopters and “massive explosions” — seemingly gas canisters blowing up inside a burning building.
For days, Helene, 42, has been guarding makeshift barricades in shifts with neighbors as they waited for hundreds of French security forces to be flown in to restore order.
“At night we hear shooting and things going off,” she told AFP. “Helicopters and military planes landing — which is sweet music to our ears.”

Economic malaise

For almost a week, the usually calm oceanside city has been convulsed with violence.
Two gendarmes and three other people, Indigenous Kanaks, have also been killed.
The unrest has been blamed on economic malaise, social tensions and — above all — a political fight between mostly Indigenous pro-independence activists and Paris authorities.
French officials have accused a separatist group known as the CCAT of being behind the riots and have placed 10 of its activists under house arrest.
CCAT on Friday called for “a time of calm to break the spiral of violence.”
Annie, an 81-year-old Noumea resident, said the week’s violence had been worse than that seen during the tumultuous 1980s: a time of political killings and hostage-taking referred to as “The Events.”
“At the time, there weren’t as many weapons,” she said.




Google map showing the location of New Caledonia.

Seeking independence
New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s.
Almost two centuries on, its politics remains dominated by debate about whether the islands should be part of France, autonomous or independent — with opinions split roughly along ethnic lines.
The latest cycle of violence was sparked by plans in Paris to impose new voting rules that could give tens of thousands of non-Indigenous residents voting rights.
Pro-independence groups say that would dilute the vote of Indigenous Kanaks, who make up about 40 percent of the population.
French authorities have called for talks and insist the situation is now “calmer” and being brought under control.
Around 1,000 security forces began reinforcing the 1,700 officers on the ground from Thursday.
Efforts to negotiate peace have so far stumbled, although French President Emmanuel Macron had begun contacting pro- and anti-independence officials individually on Friday, his office said.

'Azerbaijani actors'
A local business group estimated the damage, concentrated around Noumea, at 200 million euros ($217 million).
The damage to the islands’ reputation may cost even more.
Tourism is a big earner for New Caledonia, but an estimated 3,200 tourists and other travelers have been stranded inside or outside the archipelago by the closure of Noumea’s international airport.
The unrest has also pushed organizers to cancel plans to bring the Olympic flame through New Caledonia on its journey from Athens to Paris — where the summer Games will begin in late July.
“I think everyone understands, given the current context, the priority is consolidating a return to public order and then appeasement,” French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said on Saturday.
On Friday, French government agency Viginum said it detected a “massive and coordinated” online campaign pushing claims that French police had shot pro-independence demonstrators in New Caledonia.
Paris pointed to the involvement of “Azerbaijani actors” in the campaign, deepening a diplomatic spat between the two countries.
Azerbaijan has denied accusations of interference in New Caledonia.
 


Minnesota man who joined Daesh sentenced to 10 years in prison

Updated 19 sec ago
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Minnesota man who joined Daesh sentenced to 10 years in prison

MINNEAPOLIS: A Minnesota man who once fought for the Daesh group in Syria after becoming radicalized expressed remorse and wept in open court Thursday as he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

Abelhamid Al-Madioum, 27, cooperated with federal authorities ahead of Thursday’s hearing, which prosecutors factored into their recommendation for a lower sentence than the statutory maximum of 20 years.

US District Judge Ann Montgomery said among the cases she has presided over in her 40 years on the bench, Al-Madioum’s was “extraordinary.” She cited his confounding path from a loving Minnesota home to one of the world’s most notorious terror organizations and his subsequent collaboration with the government he betrayed.

When Al-Madioum rose to speak before being sentenced, he thanked the US government for giving him another chance. He then turned to address his parents and two young sons, who were rescued from a Syrian orphanage and brought to America with the help of federal authorities.

“I know I put you through so much, and I did with the belief that it was my religious duty,” Al-Madioum said while fighting back tears. “That’s no excuse. My first duty should have been to you.”

Al-Madioum, a naturalized US citizen, was among several Minnesotans suspected of leaving the US to join the Daesh group, along with thousands of fighters from other countries worldwide. Roughly three dozen people are known to have left Minnesota to join militant groups in Somalia or Syria. In 2016, nine Minnesota men were sentenced on federal charges of conspiring to join Daesh.

But Al-Madioum is one of the relatively few Americans who have been brought back to the US who actually fought for the group. According to a defense sentencing memo, he’s one of 11 adults as of 2023 to be formally repatriated to the US from the conflict in Syria and Iraq to face charges for terrorist-related crimes and alleged affiliations with IS. Others received sentences ranging from four years to life plus 70 years.

Prosecutors had asked for a 12-year sentence, arguing that Al-Madioum’s suffering did not make his crimes any less serious. Assistant US Attorney Andrew Winter said Al-Madioum self-radicalized online and helped daesh, also known as Daesh, carry out its goals.

“Young men just like him all over the world ... allowed Daesh to flourish,” Winter said.

Manvir Atwal, Al-Madioum’s attorney requested a seven-year sentence. She said Al-Madioum was taken in as an impressionable teenager by a well-oiled propaganda machine. He rejected extremist ideology years ago and had helped the government in other terrorism cases, which prosecutors confirmed.

Montgomery opted for a 10-year sentence, weighing sentencing guidelines with Al-Madioum’s cooperation and letters on his behalf, including one from an unnamed former US ambassador. He has already served over five years and might get credit for that time, Atwal said.

Al-Madioum grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park in a loving and nonreligious family, the defense memo said. He joined Daesh because he wanted to help Muslims he believed were being slaughtered by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in that country’s civil war. IS recruiters persuaded him “to test his faith and become a real Muslim.”

Al-Madioum was 18 in 2014 when IS recruited him. The college student slipped away from his family on a visit to their native Morocco in 2015. Making his way to Syria, he became a soldier for Daesh until he was maimed in an explosion in Iraq. His leg was shattered and his arm had to be amputated. Unable to fight, he used his computer skills to serve the group.

While still a member of Daesh, he married and had children with two women.

He had thought his second wife and their daughter had died. But in court Thursday, Al-Madioum said he had heard there is a chance she and their daughter might still be alive. That possibility remains under investigation, Atwal said.

Al-Madioum’s first wife died in his arms after she was shot in front of him by either rebel forces or an Daesh fighter in 2019, the defense said. Al-Madioum said in court that he dug a trench and buried her.

The day after that shooting, he walked with his sons and surrendered to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which held him under conditions the defense described as “heinous” for 18 months until the FBI returned him to the US

He pleaded guilty in 2021 to providing material support to a designated terrorist organization. His sons were eventually found in a Syrian orphanage, the culmination of what he and Montgomery described as a unique effort from US diplomats and other officials.

Al-Madioum’s parents were awarded custody of his sons after they arrived in America. Sitting in the court’s gallery Thursday, his sons, ages 7 and 9, sat on their grandparents’ laps and smiled at their father as he turned to face them.


US, Britain, Canada accuse Russia of plot to sway Moldova election

Updated 1 min 14 sec ago
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US, Britain, Canada accuse Russia of plot to sway Moldova election

KYIV/WASHINGTON: The United States, Britain and Canada accused Russia on Thursday of carrying out a plot to sway the outcome of the Moldovan presidential election in October and incite protests if a pro-Moscow candidate should lose.
Russia is working to exacerbate societal tensions and foment negative perceptions of the West and the incumbent team of Moldova’s pro-Western President Maia Sandu through disinformation and online propaganda, they said in a statement issued by the State Department in Washington.
“We are taking this step to warn our democratic partners and allies that Russian actors are carrying out a plot to influence the outcomes of Moldova’s fall 2024 presidential election,” they said.
The plot, they said, is part of wider attempts by Moscow to subvert democratic elections to “secure results favorable to the Kremlin.”
The threat is especially relevant this year as hundreds of million of voters in Europe and North America cast ballots in national, regional and local elections, the statement said.
The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean said on social media platform X that he was grateful for support from the three allies and vowed that the “Kremlin’s attempts to undermine our sovereignty and incite unrest will not succeed.”

Moldova, a former Soviet republic of 2.5 million people, has fiercely condemned Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, accused Moscow of plotting the Moldovan government’s overthrow and expelled Russian diplomats.
Russia, the allies said, is backing presidential candidates in Moldova and unidentified pro-Russia actors are “actively using disinformation and propaganda online, on the air and on the streets to further their objectives.”
These actors are fanning criticism of Sandu and her Party of Action and Solidarity to incite protests and plan to spread lies about her character and “supposed electoral irregularities.”
The allies issued the statement a day after the United States imposed sanctions on Evgenia Gutul, the pro-Russia governor of Moldova’s Gagauzia region.

Yevgenia Gutsul, leader of Moldovia's Gagauzia region. R)EUTERS/File Photo

Gutul faces criminal allegations of channelling funds from Russia to finance the now-banned Shor Party set up by Ilan Shor, an exiled pro-Russia businessman convicted of fraud in Moldova.
She denies the allegations as fabricated.
During a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Chisinau last month, Sandu accused the Kremlin of using criminal groups in Gagauzia to bring in Russian money to finance de-stabilizing activities and attempts “to bribe the elections.”
In the joint statement, the allies said they shared Sandu’s concerns that the Kremlin is using criminal groups to finance political activities.
Moscow’s political interference, they said, dates back years, and they cited as an example “direct support” that employees of Russia’s state-funded RT media network have provided to Shor.

 

 


State of ‘catastrophe’ as downpours hit Chile

Updated 32 min 38 sec ago
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State of ‘catastrophe’ as downpours hit Chile

SANTIAGO: Heavy rains battered south and central Chile on Thursday, killing one person and causing damage to hundreds of homes as authorities declared a state of catastrophe in five regions of the South American country.

A person died in the southern city of Linares when a street lamp post fell after hours-long downpours and strong winds, the Senapred disaster response service said.

Chile’s weather service issued the highest level of alarm, covering some 14 million of the 20 million people living in six of the country’s 16 regions, but this was later lifted as authorities said 80 percent of the storm had passed, and was headed for neighboring Argentina.

Prior to the arrival of the flood waters, Chile’s central region had battled severe drought for 15 years.

“We need boats to get people out,” a resident in one of the affected towns, Curanilahue, told national television.

Curanilahue, some 600 kilometers (372 miles) south of the capital Santiago, has been hard hit as the Curanilahue and Las Ranas rivers overflowed after the area received 350 millimeters (13.7 inches) of rain in just hours — more than in 2023 as a whole.

Some 2,000 houses in the area were damaged.

President Gabriel Boric, in a message from Sweden where he was on an official visit, warned that the rains “will continue very strongly,” as he announced the first death.

Interior Minister Carolina Toha, before boarding a plane to visit the affected areas, said a state of “catastrophe” had been declared in five regions to expedite the deployment of resources.

Senapred said the downpours have affected some 3,300 people, down from an initial estimate of 4,300.

In the capital Santiago, which also saw heavy rains, schools were closed for the day and authorities urged people to limit their movements.

In the city of Vina del Mar, experts worked to save a 12-story apartment building at risk of collapse after the rains caused a massive sinkhole underneath it.

The weather service said a cold front over the country was accompanied by something called an “atmospheric river” — a strip of air carrying huge amounts of moisture.


Elon Musk wins back his $44.9 billion Tesla pay package in shareholder vote

Updated 30 min 18 sec ago
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Elon Musk wins back his $44.9 billion Tesla pay package in shareholder vote

  • The favorable vote doesn’t necessarily mean that Musk will get the all-stock compensation anytime soon
  • The package is likely to remain tied up in the courts for months as Tesla tries to overturn a Deleware judge's rejection

DETROIT: Tesla shareholders have voted to restore CEO Elon Musk’s record $44.9 billion pay package that was thrown out by a Delaware judge earlier this year.

Vote totals weren’t immediately announced at Tesla’s annual stockholders’ meeting on Thursday, but the company said shareholders voted for Musk’s compensation plan, which initially was approved by the board and stockholders six years ago.
But the favorable vote doesn’t necessarily mean that Musk will get the all-stock compensation anytime soon. The package is likely to remain tied up in the Delaware Chancery Court and Supreme Court for months as Tesla tries to overturn the rejection.
Tesla last valued the package at $44.9 billion in an April regulatory filing. It was once much as $56 billion but has declined in value ialong with Tesla’s stock, which has dropped about 40 percent in the last 12 months.
Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled in January in a shareholder’s lawsuit that Musk essentially controlled the Tesla board when it ratified the package in 2018, and that it failed to fully inform shareholders who approved it the same year.
Tesla has said it would appeal, but asked shareholders to reapprove the package at Thursday’s annual meeting.

Tesla's new Model 3 sedan is displayed next to Model X SUV at the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, China, on September 2, 2023. (REUTERS/File)

A separate issue to move the company’s legal home to Texas to avoid the Delaware courts also was approved, Musk said Thursday at the meeting in Austin, Texas.
“Its incredible,” a jubilant Musk told the crowd gathered at Tesla’s headquarters and large factory in Austin, Texas. “I think we’re not just opening a new chapter for Tesla, we’re starting a new book.”
Legal experts say the issue of Musk’s pay will still be decided in Delaware, largely because Musk’s lawyers have assured McCormick that they won’t try to move the case to Texas.
But they differ on whether the new approval of the pay package will make it easier for Tesla to get it approved.
Charles Elson, a retired professor and founder of the corporate governance center at the University of Delaware, said he doesn’t think the vote will influence McCormick, who issued a decision based on the law.
McCormick’s ruling essentially made the 2018 compensation package a gift to Musk, Elson said, and that would need unanimous shareholder approval, an impossible threshold. The vote, he said, is interesting from a public perception standpoint, but “in my view it does not affect the ruling.”
John Lawrence, a Dallas-based lawyer with Baker Botts who defends corporations against shareholder lawsuits, agreed that the vote doesn’t end the legal dispute and automatically give Musk the stock options. But he says it gives Tesla a strong argument to get the ruling overturned.
He expects Musk and Tesla to argue that shareholders were fully informed before the latest votes, so McCormick should reverse her decision. But the plaintiff in the lawsuit will argue that the vote has no impact and isn’t legally binding, Lawrence said.
The vote, he said, was done under Delaware law and should be considered by the judge.
“This shareholder vote is a strong signal that you now have an absolutely well informed body of shareholders,” he said. “The judge in Delaware still could decide that this doesn’t change a thing about her prior ruling and doesn’t require her to make any different ruling going forward. But I think it definitely gives Tesla and Musk strong ammunition to try to get her to revisit this.”
If the ruling stands, then Musk likely will appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, Lawrence said.


Biden pledges not to pardon son or commute sentence

Updated 55 min 7 sec ago
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Biden pledges not to pardon son or commute sentence

  • “I said I’d abide by the jury decision. I will do that. I will not pardon him,” the president told reporters at a G7 summit press conference in Italy
  • The verdict came as Biden faces a tough re-election battle against Donald Trump, who himself recently became the first former president to become a convicted felon

SAVELLETRI, Italy: US President Joe Biden said Thursday that he would not pardon his son Hunter or commute any sentence following Hunter’s conviction on charges of lying about his drug addiction while buying a handgun.

“No,” Biden replied when reporters at a G7 summit press conference in Italy asked if he would commute any sentence that 54-year-old Hunter faces.
“I’m extremely proud of my son Hunter. He has overcome an addiction, he’s one of the brightest, most decent men I know,” Biden said.
“I said I’d abide by the jury decision. I will do that. I will not pardon him,” he said.
In the historic first criminal prosecution of a sitting US president’s child, a jury on Tuesday found Hunter Biden guilty on three felony counts stemming from his 2018 purchase of a handgun while addicted to crack cocaine.

Hunter Biden (C) walks with his son and wife a Delaware airport after meeting with his father, US President Joe Biden, on June 11, 2024, just aftera jury found the younger Biden guilty on Tuesday of federal gun charges. (AFP)

He could face up to 25 years in prison, though as a first-time offender jail time is unlikely. A date was not set for sentencing but it is expected to take place in the next few months.
Biden said in a statement after the verdict that he loved his sole surviving son — his eldest son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 — and would respect the jury’s conclusion.
But his comments in Italy on Thursday were his first public statement on the verdict.
The day before his Italy trip, Biden, 81, changed his schedule to fly to Wilmington, Delaware, the family hometown where the trial was held.
Hunter Biden was waiting on the tarmac when Marine One landed and was given a warm hug by his father before they left in a motorcade.
The verdict came as Biden faces a tough re-election battle against Donald Trump, who himself recently became the first former president to become a convicted felon.
Trump was found guilty by a New York jury of breaching election law by lying about hush money payments to a porn star.