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France accuses Azerbaijan of interference in New Caledonia riots

France accused Azerbaijan on Thursday of “interference” in the politics of its Pacific territory of New Caledonia, which has seen deadly riots in recent days, AFP reports.

Azerbaijan swiftly denied the charge by French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, which added to a growing number of tensions between France and the hydrocarbon-rich Caspian Sea state.

The riots in New Caledonia, a French territory lying between Australia and Fiji, were sparked by moves to agree a new voting law that supporters of independence from France say discriminates against the indigenous Kanak population.

French officials have for some time been concerned about the interest taken by Azerbaijan in French overseas territories including New Caledonia, in spite of the vast geographical and cultural distance.

“This isn’t a fantasy. It’s a reality,” Darmanin told France 2 TV when asked if Azerbaijan, China and Russia were interfering in New Caledonia.

“I regret that some of the Caledonian pro-independence leaders have made a deal with Azerbaijan. It’s indisputable,” he alleged.

But he added: “Even if there are attempts at interference… France is sovereign on its own territory, and so much the better.”

“We completely reject the baseless accusations,” Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry spokesman Ayhan Hajizadeh said.

“We refute any connection between the leaders of the struggle for freedom in Caledonia and Azerbaijan.”

Darmanin said Azerbaijan – which has been led since 2003 by President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father Heydar – was a “dictatorship.”

Azerbaijan invited representatives of the French territories of Martinique, French Guiana, New Caledonia and French Polynesia to Baku for a conference in July 2023.

The meeting saw the creation of the “Baku Initiative Group”, whose stated aim is to support “French liberation and anti-colonialist movements.”

The group published a statement this week condemning the French parliament’s proposed change to New Caledonia’s constitution, which would allow outsiders who moved to the territory at least 10 years ago the right to vote in its elections.

Pro-independence forces say that would dilute the vote of Kanaks, who make up about 40 percent of the population.

“We stand in solidarity with our Kanak friends and support their fair struggle,” the Baku Initiative Group said.

Raphael Glucksmann, the lawmaker heading the list for the French Socialists in June’s European Parliament elections, told Public Senate TV that Azerbaijan had made “attempts to interfere… for months.”

He said the underlying problem behind the unrest was a domestic dispute over election reform, not agitation fomented by “foreign actors.”

“But,” he said of Azerbaijan, “they are seizing on internal problems.”

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