|Pacific Media Watch|
Ten Kanak union activists in custody
Title -- 5275 NEW CALEDONIA: Ten Kanak union activists remanded in custody
Date -- 24 January 2008
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- Oceania Flash 23/1/08
Copyright - OF
Status -- Unabridged
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TEN UNION MILITANTS REMANDED IN CUSTODY
NOUMEA (Oceania Flash/Pacific Media Watch): Ten militants and members of the Union of Kanak and Exploited Workers (USTKE) have been remanded in custody on Tuesday after their first appearance before a Nouméa tribunal.
They are being charged for taking part in an "armed reunion despite being summoned to disperse", as well as, in some cases, assaulting police officers or damaging public property.
They are to reappear on February 22.
The events they are alleged to have taken part in took place on Thursday last week, after an estimated 200 French policemen stepped in to lift a USTKE-staged blockade as part of a strike at local bus company CarSud.
The union was demanding that a bus driver - who was sacked for allegedly stealing proceedings from ticket sales - be reinstated.
The violent clashes between police and some 400 USTKE members and sympathisers, last week lasted for up to 12 hours and was described by local media as a riot bordering on "urban guerrilla".
Dozens of people, on both sides, were injured, some by the French police's notorious rubber bullets.
Police also used teargas to disperse the crowd and restored an uneasy calm in the Nouméa suburb by Thursday evening.
USTKE's lawyer, Cécile Moresco, reacted to the decision to remand her clients in custody, saying this infringed their "fundamental rights" since the judge appeared not to have applied the principle of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
The court and public prosecutor Robert Blaser justified the ruling by saying the accused should remain in custody to avoid any repeat of last week's incidents.
"I've only requested that the law be applied - the law that protects each and every citizen," Blaser later commented.
Outside the court house, an estimated five hundred USTKE members and militants staged a peaceful demonstration, brandishing banners and placards in support of the accused.
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