New Caledonia: French Pacific territory rejects independence

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International desk: Voters in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia have rejected a bid for independence, partial results say.

Some 56.8% voted to remain part of France. Turnout was nearly 80%.

The vote was promised as part of a deal reached after an independence campaign which was marked by violence.

French President Emmanuel Macron said it showed “confidence in the French republic”. New Caledonia has large deposits of nickel, a vital component in manufacturing electronics.

It is seen by France as a strategic political and economic asset in the region.

About 175,000 people were eligible to vote in the territory, east of Australia, where Kanaks make up 39.1% of the population.

French nationalism is strong among the territory’s ethnic Europeans – constituting 27.1% of the population – and observers say even some Kanaks back staying part of France.

The remaining third of the population of New Caledonia’s 268 ,000 inhabitants are also largely said to oppose independence.

The remote islands receive about €1.3bn (£1.1bn; $1.5bn) from the French government every year.

During a visit to the capital, Nouméa, in May, he said that France would be “less beautiful without New Caledonia”.

Under the terms of a 1998 deal, a No vote result on Sunday may not spell the end of the independence drive. Two further referendums on independence can still be held before 2022.

A Yes vote would have made New Caledonia the first French territory to break away since Djibouti (1977) and Vanuatu (1980).

New Caledonia is represented in the French parliament by two deputies and two senators.

It has a congress which elects an executive with powers over some policy areas – notably policing, education and local laws.

France first claimed the islands in 1853 and once used them as a penal colony.

In the 1980s there were clashes between French forces and indigenous Kanaks.

The climax of that conflict came when Kanak separatists killed four French gendarmes and took another 23 hostage in a cave. The subsequent French assault cost the lives of 19 Kanaks and two soldiers.

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