Violence linked to riots in New Caledonia, a French archipelago in the South Pacific, continued on Saturday with a sixth death in six days, according to the authorities.

One more person was killed Saturday and two injured in France’s Pacific territory of New Caledonia as security personnel tried to restore order after a fifth night of riots and looting that has now claimed six lives.

The incident occurred in the archipelago’s northern Kaala-Gomen area, General Nicolas Mattheos said. An informed source said the dead man and one of the injured were a father and son trying to cross a barricade erected by rioters.

Hundreds of heavily armed French soldiers and police on Saturday patrolled the capital Nouméa, where streets were filled with debris.

AFP reporters in the city’s Magenta district saw vehicles and buildings burned, with a phalanx of riot police on the scene trying to reassert government control.

Overnight, residents reported hearing gunfire, the drone of helicopters and “massive explosions” – what seemed to be gas canisters blowing up inside a building that was set alight.

Six dead

For almost a week, the usually unhurried oceanside city has been convulsed.

Two gendarmes have been killed: one shot in the head and a second shot in friendly fire, officials said.

Three other people – all indigenous Kanaks – have also been killed: a 17-year-old and two men aged 20 and 36.

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 CCAT of being behind the riots.

Ten activists accused of organizing the violence have been placed under house arrest, according to authorities.

The territory is “on a destructive path,” warned local Minister Vaimu’a Muliava Saturday, telling those involved, “You are only punishing yourselves.”

CCAT on Friday called for “a time of calm to break the spiral of violence.”

‘Out of our hands’

New Caledonia has been French territory since colonization in the late 1800s.

Centuries on, 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% of the population.

French authorities have called for talks, and insist the situation is now “calmer” and being brought under control.

Starting from Thursday, around 1,000 security forces began joining the 1,700 already on the ground.

Efforts to negotiate peace have so far stumbled.

President Emmanuel Macron began contacting pro- and anti-independence officials individually on Friday, his office said.

Low supplies

Meanwhile in Nouméa, hundreds of people lined up outside shops, hoping to secure desperately needed food and supplies.

“Do your shopping in 10 minutes, to allow everyone to get supplies!” said one attendant ushering customers into a supermarket in Magenta on Saturday.

A local business group estimated the damage, concentrated around Nouméa, 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 Nouméa’s international airport.

On Friday, a 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.

The government pointed to the involvement of “Azerbaijani actors” in the campaign, deepening a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

French senator Claude Malhuret said China could have used its TikTok social network – now blocked in New Caledonia – to influence the population.

“China has a real interest in kicking France out” of the Pacific and New Caledonia’s massive nickel reserves, he told AFP.

Mathurin Derel, with AFP