NEW CALEDONIA UNION LEADER RELEASED

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Faces charges relating to Noumea airport disruption

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, June 2, 2009) – New Caledonia USTKE (Kanak and Exploited Workers’ Union) leader Gérard Jodar has been released under supervision measure on Tuesday, pending a local court hearing on June 16, where he will have to answer charges of causing disruption to air traffic and damages caused to public service property, local media report.

The charges relate to grave incidents that occurred on Thursday last week at New Caledonia’s capital Nouméa domestic airport.

USTKE had entered the tarmac security area in protest against the non-resolution of a dispute involving the sacking of one of its members.

The union demands that the employee, who was terminated from domestic airline Air Calédonie, be reinstated.

USTKE’s action, on Thursday, triggered violent clashes with the local riot police, who used tear gas and deafening grenades against the militants.

French High Commissioner Yves Dassonville, commenting on the latest incidents, said USTKE’s actions were no longer in the domain of union practices, but rather closer to the deeds of "bandits".

Dassonville also alleged that some explosive devices had been found onboard of the of the ATR Air Calédonie planes.

USTKE later retorted accusing the French government of attempting to "criminalise" USTKE and more generally union practices, in the public opinion.

Jodar and over twenty other USTKE members had been arrested on Thursday and have since been remanded in custody at Nouméa central police station.

During the hearing on Tuesday this week, a crowd of up to two hundred militants and sympathisers had gathered outside the court house, under heavy police presence.

Jodar’s lawyer Laurent Aguila, on Tuesday, argued in substance that there was no reason for treating Jodar in a different manner than the other members of the group.

Aguila also stressed that the overarching principle was that his clients were presumed innocent until proven guilty and that therefore, they should be allowed to appear in Court on June 16 as free men.

Aguila’s request was finally granted.

Jodar later told reporters outside the court that he had also endeavoured to use the next two weeks preceding his trial to strive and find a negotiated agreement with Air Calédonie’s management and put an end to the dispute.

Jodar has also been slammed with a restraining order that prevents him from approaching Nouméa’s domestic airport of Magenta, where last week’s violence took place.

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