State of emergency takes effect in New Caledonia after four killed in riots

France has declared a state of emergency in its Pacific island territory of New Caledonia and deployed police and military reinforcements in an attempt to end days of unrest over the French government’s move to change the rules on provincial elections.

Three Indigenous Kanak people and a police officer have been killed in violence that erupted on Monday night and has continued despite an overnight curfew. Hundreds have been injured.

The state of emergency came into force at 5am on Thursday (18:00 GMT on Wednesday) and gives the authorities wide powers of search and arrest.

The high commission, which represents the French state in New Caledonia, said in a statement that five people had been placed under house arrest as “alleged sponsors of the violent disturbances” and that more searches would take place “in the coming hours”.

More than 200 “rioters” had been arrested, it added.

The authorities are “determined to quickly restore public order and take all necessary measures to protect the population of New Caledonia,” the statement said.

David Guyenne, president of the New Caledonia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Al Jazeera they were not “prepared” for the protests, which have had dire effects on the local economy.

The state of emergency “is good for us”, he said. “We have found that those rioters are uncontrollable. They were manipulated, or they were incentivised by pro-independence politicians, and now they are totally out of control. That’s why we need to return to the state of law.”

Guyenne added that “hopefully” the situation would be under control soon as France deploys more troops.

A contingent of troops were on their way from Marseille to help secure New Caledonia’s international airport, which has been closed since the start of the week, as well as its ports.

The state of emergency will remain in force for 12 days.

France expects to regain control of the situation “in the coming hours”, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France 2 television on Thursday.