New Caledonia rejects independence from France
The South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia voted against independence from France in a referendum on Sunday, full provisional results showed.
The 'no' camp won 53.26% of the vote, according to the archipelago's high commission, marking a narrower margin of victory than in a previous referendum in 2018.
Sunday's independence referendum was part of a three-decade decolonisation effort aimed at settling tensions in New Caledonia between native Kanaks seeking independence and residents willing to remain in France.
It’s the second time the Pacific archipelago has gone to the polls to decide on its fate in two years. The first referendum in 2018 resulted in the maintenance of the status quo with 56.7 percent of the vote. The close result this time “opens the door to the possibility of a third independence referendum”, noted FRANCE 24 international affairs editor Philip Turle.
But the 2018 result still marked a shift towards pro-independence sympathies, raising campaigners' hopes that this time it could manage to break free.
High voter turnout
Enthusiasm was high and authorities said turnout was about 80 percent an hour before voting ended -- a full six points higher than in its first independence referendum held in 2018 -- leaving people to form long queues to cast their ballots.
"I waited 45 minutes. It's very important for me to vote," said retiree Germaine Le Demezet in the capital Noumea.
"I have children and grandchildren here, the future needs to be clear and we need to know what's going to happen to us."
'The Pebble' in the Pacific
New Caledonia, situated between Australia and Fiji and sometimes called "The Pebble", was seized by France in 1853 and is home to 270,000 people.
The economy's mainstays are the production of metals, especially nickel of which New Caledonia is a major global producer, as well as tourism and financial support from mainland France.
The French government, from more than 16,000 kilometres (10,000 miles) away, subsidises the territory with around 1.5 billion euros ($1.75 billion) every year, the equivalent of more than 15 percent of New Caledonia's gross domestic product.
A special authorisation allowing the French national flag to be used in campaign spots angered the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), which accused the French government of taking sides against independence.
The last former colonies to gain independence from France were Djibouti in 1977 and Vanuatu in 1980.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, whose government must remain scrupulously neutral in the vote, has said he plans to talk to all the main actors in the aftermath of the poll.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
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