NEWS FROM NEW CALEDONIA

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Friday, July 2, 1999
PINA Nius Online

HIGHLIGHTS

UNIONS CALL FOR GENERAL STRIKE ON JULY 8

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (July 2, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---Unions in New Caledonia have called a general strike for July 8 to protest against "threats to basic labor rights," the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles reported here Friday.

The inter-union federation, which groups the French territory's main trade movements, including the public servants association, USTKE (Union of Exploited Kanak Workers), USOENC (Trade Union of Workers and Employees of New Caledonia), and Force Ouvriére, said the move was resolved at a meeting on Thursday morning.

The call is being extended to secondary schools, universities, employees, unemployed and retired people to protest against what they see as a threat to "acquired advantages. "

On Monday, some 160 disgruntled employers gathered here to discuss the tense social situation in a strike-ridden Noumea.

The "information meeting" followed a call from the employers' federation, from the local Chamber of Commerce, and several employers' unions, after weeks of strike affecting several industries in the French territory's capital, including the packaging industry and the domestic airline Air Calédonie.

The main concern, a spokesman said, was to find ways to bring the current social tension and industrial disputes to an end.

"In the current disputes and industrial actions, it's simply about a power relationship, no longer about the social dialogue that should be in place. We should form a common platform, because we'll have to tackle some fundamental problems with trade unions, hopefully in a peaceful spirit. Otherwise, we'll just go straight into the wall," Chamber of Commerce President Michel Quintard told the meeting.

The employers also expressed the wish to involve the French metropolitan and New Caledonian governments in the process.

An employers' delegation earlier this month met the French government's outgoing representative in New Caledonia, Dominique Bur, Noumea Mayor and New Caledonia's newly-elected President Jean Lèques and other members of the new government.

"The government has committed itself to setting up a structure to promote dialogue," Quintard said.

NEW CALEDONIAN BAND TO PERFORM IN FIJI

SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 2, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---New Caledonian band "Mexem" and singer Edocu will perform in Fiji's capital Suva next July 29, the Alliance Française reported here on Friday.

The band, which plays popular Kaneka-style music, has previously toured in the region, including in New Zealand, Australia, Samoa and Vanuatu.

Kaneka is a mixture of traditional Kanak music and reggae sounds.

Mexem and Edocu will perform at the Suva Civic Centre and the Alliance Française.

TENSION MOUNTING IN NORTHERN NEW CALEDONIA

NOUMEA, July 2 (PINA Nius Online) - A six-week long protest movement in the northern nickel mine of Nakéty (near the village of Canala), led by angry traditional landowners, turned sour on Thursday, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reported Friday.

The nickel mining site has been paralyzed since May 18 after landowners, supported by some workers on the mining site belonging to the powerful Ballande conglomerate, disapproved of a restructuring plan within the mine, which plans to sack half of the thirty employees.

Roadblocks were erected last week on the site's access ways, by both strikers and workers who wanted to fight for their right to work.

But the confrontation has turned more open since Thursday, Les Nouvelles reports, when two villagers were manhandled by mine employees as they were driving through Nakéty village.

A fight resulted, but no one was seriously injured, police said. However, the windows of their mini-bus were smashed and a bushknife was later found in the car's body.

Nakéty villagers soon retorted by assaulting mine employees who had gone to the extraction site. Another fight entailed, with no one injured.

But here again, windows of the truck they were driving were smashed and its tires punctured.

Another four-wheel drive car nearby was smashed and burned.

Mine employees later erected a roadblock made of dozens of tons of earth, preventing any vehicle from passing through.

Canala's mayor has since urged the Noumea-based High Commission's office and the one-month-old New Caledonian government to ensure that order is maintained.

This bulletin was produced by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). Editor: Patrick Antoine DECLOITRE For more information, contact Nina RATULELE, PINA Administrator, at pina@is.com.fj

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