August 14, 2022

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(Newser) – Voters in the French island territory of New Caledonia chose overwhelmingly Sunday to...


Voters in the French island territory of New Caledonia chose overwhelmingly Sunday to stay part of France, in a referendum boycotted by pro-independence forces and closely watched around the South Pacific. French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the result as a resounding confirmation of France’s role in the Indo-Pacific, the AP reports, and announced negotiations on the territory’s future status. Separatist activists expressed dismay, or resignation. They had urged a delay in the vote because of the pandemic, and were angry over what they felt were French government efforts to sway the campaign.

So separatists called on their supporters to stay away from voting stations. And they did. Official results showed a staggering 96% of those who took part chose to stay in France. Overall turnout was less than 44%—barely half the numbers who showed up for an independence referendum last year, when support for breaking away was 46.7%. “Tonight we are French, and we will stay that way. It’s no longer negotiable,” said Sonia Backes, president of the Southern Province region and a loyalist. New Caledonia, colonized by Napoleon’s nephew in the 19th century, is a vast archipelago of about 270,000 people east of Australia that is 10 time zones ahead of Paris—and hosts a French military base.
The vote was monitored by the UN and regional powers, amid global efforts toward decolonization and amid growing Chinese influence in the region. “Tonight France is more beautiful because New Caledonia decided to stay,” Macron said in a nationally televised address. He did not address the boycott. But noting that the electorate “remains deeply divided,” Macron pledged “respect for all Caledonians,” including those who voted to leave. Sunday’s vote was the third and last in a decades-long process aimed at settling tensions between native Kanaks seeking independence and those who want the territory to remain part of France.
(Read more New Caledonia stories.)

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