POLICE FIRE TEARGAS TO DISPERSE PROTESTERS IN NOUMÉA: SEVERAL INJURED

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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (July 2, 2002 - Oceania Flash)---Three protesters were injured in New Caledonia's capital of Nouméa Monday after police fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd opposing the implementation of a new social security system, RFO's Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie reports.

Protesters included members of the local Union of Independent Workers (UTI) and the Federation of Small and Medium Businesses (FPME).

They unions and their members opposed implementation of the Unified Health Insurance and Maternity (RUAMM) plan on July 1.

They gathered on Monday in front of the local Social Security headquarters and later marched to the local government building in central Nouméa.

There, they wanted to be received by government representatives.

But the building was heavily guarded by police.

As some protesters tried to forcibly enter the building, teargas and rubber bullets were shot to disperse the crowd.

Some protesters replied by throwing stones at the police, as organizers, through a loudspeaker, told the crowd to remain calm.

Later in the afternoon, the protesters tried again to enter the government building and finally managed to meet with Tino Manualalo, who is in charge of the health portfolio, and government First Secretary Bernard Deladrière.

The outcome of the meeting did not satisfy the protesters.

"If the government had allowed a delegation to come in and discuss matters, there would not have been three injured," Union leader Alain Descombels said.

Police said, in addition to the protesters, four policemen were injured slightly by thrown stones.

The union is critical of the plan because worker payments are mandatory.

UTI has called on its members to take part in further protest actions, including possible capital area roadblocks.

Last month, primary and secondary schools in the greater Nouméa area were severely affected for two weeks by the teachers' union FSU, which also opposes the new plan.

Their protest, which affected about 10,000 children, ended last week. On Monday, all school classes were back in session.

Teachers demanded that the planned enforcement of RUAMM be postponed so that some fine-tuning could be made.

Some of the protesters, who have metropolitan France public service status, do not agree with the new compulsory contribution system.

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