President Emmanuel Macron arrived Thursday in riot-hit New Caledonia, having crossed the globe by plane in a high-profile show of support for the Pacific archipelago wracked by deadly unrest and where Indigenous people have long sought independence from France.

The unrest was sparked by anger among Indigenous Kanak people over constitutional changes backed by Paris that would give voting rights to tens of thousands of non-Indigenous residents. Local leaders fear the change will dilute the Kanak vote and undermine longstanding efforts to secure independence.

Macron, who briefly spoke to reporters after his arrival at La Tontouta International Airport, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the New Caledonian capital of Noumea, said he viewed a return to calm as the top priority.

He said that his wish, along with that of his ministers and the government, was “to be alongside the people and see a return to peace, calm and security as soon as possible.”

Macron added he plans to meet with local officials and discuss the resources needed to repair the damage wrought by days of shootings, arson and other violence that has left at least six dead and a broad trail of destruction estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of euros (dollars).

“We will discuss questions of economic reconstruction, support and rapid response, and the most delicate political questions, as we talk about the future of New Caledonia,” he said. “By the end of the day, decisions will be taken and announcements will be made.”

When asked by a reporter whether he thought a 12-hour visit was enough, Macron responded: “We will see. I don’t have a limit.”

The president scrapped his previously announced schedule to make the journey of some 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) himself, spurred by the most severe violence to hit New Caledonia since the 1980s. The lightning visit, expected to last just one day, will allow him to see the destruction first-hand.

Macron is expected to push for local leaders bitterly divided by the issue of independence to resume talks, and to thank French security forces that have been seeking to restore order. More than 1,000 reinforcements have been rushed in and a state of emergency was declared last week from Paris to boost their powers. Later he said security forces would remain in New Caledonia as long as necessary.

However, Macron’s visit has provoked mixed reactions among local politicians.

“It’s a staging. The format is not right,” said Roch Wamytan, an independence leader of the Caledonian Union and president of the Congress of New Caledonia.

“The question we are asking is ‘Will the constitutional revision text be withdrawn to clear the way for in-depth discussions?’” Wamytan said.

“Here comes the fireman after he set the fire!” Jimmy Naouna, from the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste of New Caledonia, wrote on X in response to news of Macron’s visit.

Mike, an activist stationed at a roadblock, said: “He [Macron] has to come. Because parliament is starting to turn against him. That’s why he’s coming. This reform needs to be removed. That law needs to go. If we want peace here in Kanaky, it has to be removed.”

Sonia Backès, a prominent pro-France figure and president of New Caledonia’s South Province said Macron’s visit was “a strong sign of his willingness to find solutions, first on public order and justice, then politically”.

Virginie Ruffenach, a local politician and anti-independence leader, said the state “has an important role to play and has a lot of help to offer in this catastrophic situation”.

A large part of the population, across political lines, feel growing resentment towards their leaders.

“We ended up here because of the politicians, whether they are independence supporters or not,” said one 40-year-old Caledonian. “They take us for pawns. They say we need to get back to the negotiating table, but where is this table?”

The Pacific territory of 270,000 people has been in turmoil since 13 May, the worst violence seen there in 40 years.

Nearly 400 public buildings, businesses, shops and homes have been destroyed by fires set by rioters in just over a week, according to public prosecutor Yves Dupas.

There is significant damage to roads, making access and travel in parts of New Caledonia difficult. The main road connecting Nouméa to Tontouta international airport Nouméa to the airport remains damaged and blockaded, preventing access. Many secondary roads are still not secure, particularly those leading to the main hospital.

Damaged roads are obstructing the supply of food, fuel and other goods to the population. Residents are having to wait several hours to purchase essential goods, and items are being rationed. The closure of banks and the destruction of many ATMs have made it difficult to obtain cash, which is widely used in the archipelago.

The residents who spoke to the Guardian did not want to be named, for fear they may be targeted.

“There are young people causing trouble all night, gunshots all night. It doesn’t stop. We have been cloistered at home since Tuesday. It’s a lawless area,” said a resident of Logicoop, a particularly hard-hit neighbourhood in Nouméa.

Another resident from Logicoop felt safer but feared a police presence could stir unrest in the neighbourhood.

“We were a little scared the first two days when they started burning everything around. Today, we feel relatively safe in the neighbourhood. Things are going well between the different communities, and there is a lot of mutual aid. We haven’t seen a single police officer since the beginning, and we’re afraid things will heat up when they arrive,” the resident said.

It was late Tuesday in Paris when he climbed aboard his presidential jet but, because of the distance and time difference, it was already Thursday morning in New Caledonia when he arrived, with unrest still simmering and his interior and defence ministers in tow.

The violence erupted 13 May as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French Constitution to make changes to New Caledonia voter lists. The National Assembly approved a bill that will, among other changes, allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for at least 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections.

Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalise the Kanaks, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

There have been decades of tensions between the Kanaks and descendants of colonists and others who settled in the territory of 270,000 people and want to remain part of France.

Macron, in the past, has facilitated dialogue in New Caledonia between pro-independence and pro-France factions. The efforts culminated in a 2018 referendum, the first of three, in which New Caledonians voted to remain part of France by a narrow margin.

At least six people have died in the violence, including four civilians and two gendarmes. The New Caledonia High Commission said more than 280 people have been arrested and 84 police officers and gendarmes have been injured. It was not clear how many civilians were injured.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu and Overseas Territories Minister Marie Guevenoux accompanied Macron on the trip.