New Caledonia, Sunday
The Pacific islands of New Caledonia voted today to remain part of France in an independence referendum that showed support for Paris in one of its many far-flung but strategic outposts.
Some 18,000 kilometres (11,000 miles) from the French mainland, New Caledonia is home to a quarter of the world’s known supplies of nickel — a vital electronics component— and is a foothold for France in the Pacific where China is increasing its influence.
On the final count, 56.4 per cent of people had rejected the proposition that New Caledonia becomes independent, a clear but smaller-than-expected victory for loyalists to the mainland.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “immense pride that we have taken this historic step together” in a televised address to the nation, adding it was “a sign of confidence in the French Republic, in its future and its values.”
Despite being an archipelago of islands, New Caledonia is sometimes referred to in France as “the pebble” and is home to about 175,000 people. Turnout was high for the vote, at more than 80 per cent.
But there are fears the referendum could inflame tensions between indigenous Kanak people, who tend to favour independence, and the white population which has settled since France annexed the islands in 1853.
Several cars were burned and a couple of incidents of stone-throwing were reported late today, local authorities said, but the vote was otherwise peaceful. Tensions in New Caledonia boiled over into ethnic strife in the 1980s which claimed more than 70 lives. -AFP