French forces launch 'major operation' to open route to New Caledonia's restive capital

French forces launched a "major operation" on Sunday to regain control of a road linking New Caledonia's capital Noumea to the main international airport, after a sixth night of violent unrest.

Officials said more than 600 heavily armed gendarmes were dispatched to secure Route Territoriale 1, the main artery connecting the restive capital with air links to the outside world.

Furthermore, plans for the Olympic torch relay to pass through the French territory were cancelled on Saturday.

The flame had been scheduled to arrive on June 11 but French Sports Minister Amélie Oudea-Castera said that "priority must be given to a return to calm" in the territory.

"I think that everyone understands, given the context, that the priority really is to consolidate the return to public order, and then to appeasement.

"Priority to the safety of residents, priority to a return to calm, and priority to the political improvement of the situation."

Six people have been killed and hundreds injured since rioting began on Monday, according to local authorities.

The violence has been fuelled by economic malaise, ethnic tensions and long-standing opposition to French rule on the Pacific archipelago.

Unidentified groups set two fires and raided a petrol station, according to the office of New Caledonia's high commissioner.

But authorities insisted the situation is improving.

"The night has been calmer," the commissioner's office said.

"At the time, there weren't as many weapons," she said.


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