STORY: On the streets of New Caledonia Monday (13 May), rioters burnt cars, clashed with police and set up barricades amid plumes of smoke.

Chaos ensued on the French-ruled Pacific island after protests over plans to change the territory's voting system turned violent.

Authorities in the territory brought in reinforcements, imposed a curfew in the capital Noumea, and shut the international airport.

Lawmakers in France's National Assembly have been discussing a draft law to change New Caledonia's voting statutes.

The proposed changes would allow French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections - a move local leaders fear will dilute the vote of indigenous Kanak people.

"We hope that our voice, our dignity and our pride of being the people of Kanaky, will be heard by the General Assembly."

"(We hope) that the state listens to us, that they realize that we do not agree with this, we don't agree with that law, with the text that they have laid there. We don't agree at all."

New Caledonia's interior minister said dozens of police had been injured, and many people had been arrested over the last two days.

Mike Lightfoot, a New Zealand national, is on holiday in Noumea with his wife.

"...we ended up coming down into the town and the streets were on fire, they were rioting in the streets, quite a frightening experience actually. And then as we approached one of the roundabouts there would have been about 150 people there rioting. They had the roundabouts all on fire, black smoke."

One of five island territories spanning the Indo-Pacific held by France, New Caledonia is the word's third-largest nickel producer.

It is also integral to French President Emmanuel Macron's plan to increase Paris' influence in the Pacific.

New Caledonia is over 12,400 miles from France and 930 miles east of Australia.

Of a population of 270,000, 41% are Melanesian and 24% are of European origin, mostly French.

A 1998 Noumea Accord helped end a decade of conflict in the territory, by outlining a path to gradual autonomy and restricting voting to the indigenous Kanak and migrants who had arrived before 1998.

Three referendums to determine the future of the country followed. Independence was rejected in all of them.