New Caledonia voters choose to stay part of France

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Pro-independence supporters celebrate the results of the vote in Noumea, New Caledonia, Sunday, Oct.4, 2020. A majority of voters in New Caledonia, an archipelago in in the South Pacific, chose to remain part of France instead of backing independence Sunday, in a referendum that marked a milestone moment in a three-decade long decolonization effort. The overseas ministry said results show 53.3% of the voters who participated in the referendum have chosen to maintain ties with France, while 46.7% supported independence. (AP Photo/Mathurin Derel)

NOUMEA – A majority of voters in New Caledonia chose to remain part of France instead of backing independence in a referendum Sunday that led the French president to call for dialogue after a three-decade decolonization effort in the South Pacific archipelago.

In a televised address from Paris, President Emmanuel Macron welcomed “an expression of confidence in the Republic with a deep feeling of gratitude... and modesty.”

Macron promised pro-independence supporters “this is with you, all together, that we will build New Caledonia tomorrow" and called on New Caledonians to look to the future.

“We are facing our history in New Caledonia, an colonial history,” Macron said. “And we are trying to overcome it so that we are not trapped in it. We know that today we are at a crossroads."

The overseas ministry said 53.3% of voters chose to maintain ties with France while 46.7% supported independence. Turnout was high, with more than 85% of voters casting ballots one hour before poll stations closed, and some stations in Noumea, the capital, closed an hour late to ensure people waiting in long lines at the planned closing time could still vote.

Sunday’s independence referendum was among the final steps of longstanding plans to settle tensions on the archipelago between native Kanaks seeking independence and residents willing to remain in France.

A peace deal between rival factions was achieved in 1988. A decade later, the Noumea Agreement granted New Caledonia political power and broad autonomy and planned the organization of up to three successive referendums.

Two years ago, 56.4% of people in a similar referendum voted against independence. A third referendum may be organized by 2022.