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New Caledonia voters reject independence from France


NOUMEA: Voters within the French island territory of New Caledonia selected overwhelmingly Sunday to remain a part of France, in a referendum boycotted by pro-independence forces and intently watched across the South Pacific.
Separatist activists had urged a delay within the vote due to the pandemic, and have been offended over what they stated have been French authorities efforts to sway the marketing campaign. In order that they known as on their supporters to steer clear of voting stations.
They usually did. With three-quarters of the vote counted, 91% of those that took half selected to remain in France, in keeping with regional officers. Total turnout was simply 41% _ lower than half the numbers who confirmed up in a earlier independence referendum final yr, the place assist for breaking away was 46.7%.
Protecting New Caledonia is essential for French geopolitical ambitions in Indo-Pacific, and French President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to present a nationwide handle later Sunday.
The vote was monitored by the U.N. and regional powers, amid international efforts towards decolonization and amid rising Chinese language affect within the area. New Caledonia, colonized by Napoleon’s nephew within the nineteenth century, is an unlimited archipelago of about 270,000 folks east of Australia that’s 10 time zones forward of Paris _ and hosts a French navy base.
Sunday’s vote was the third and final in a decades-long decolonization course of that stemmed from violence in 1988, which led to the French authorities handing New Caledonia broad autonomy underneath the Noumea Settlement. The method was aimed toward settling tensions between native Kanaks in search of independence and those that need the territory to stay a part of France.
The method doesn’t finish with the final referendum. The state, separatists and non-separatists now have 18 months to barter a brand new standing for the territory and its establishments inside France.
A tropical storm warning additionally dampened enthusiasm for the vote. Traces snaked out of some polling stations, as winds whipped palm timber lining the streets of the regional capital Noumea. However turnout at others was barely a trickle.
The query put to folks within the archipelago’s 307 voting stations was: “Would you like New Caledonia to achieve full sovereignty and turn into impartial?” Masks and social distancing measures have been required.
The marketing campaign and voting day have been unusually calm due to the boycott name.
“There are so much much less folks” than throughout earlier referendums, stated Laura Vendegou, assessor at a polling station welcoming New Caledonians from the Loyalty Islands. “The opening was very calm.”
However on the Noumea metropolis corridor, voters confirmed up at 6:30 a.m. to line as much as vote.
Within the first such referendum in 2018, 43.6% of voters supported independence, and 46.7% favored it in a second vote held in 2020. Whereas assist for a “sure” vote appeared to be rising, the area’s first coronavirus outbreak in September threw the political debate into disarray. Till then, New Caledonia had been one of many few virus-free locations left on the planet.
By November, the archipelago had reported 271 COVID-19 deaths, and the regional Senate decreed a yr of conventional Kanak mourning. Independence activists felt they could not marketing campaign out of respect for his or her useless, and demanded that the referendum be postponed.
However pro-France teams insisted the vote ought to happen as scheduled to finish uncertainty over New Caledonia’s future and to spice up its financial prospects. Professional-independence activists introduced they might refuse to participate, accusing the federal government in Paris of imposing the referendum date and violating neutrality by publishing a doc seen as casting the implications of independence in a adverse mild.
France is attempting to cement its presence within the Indo-Pacific area after it misplaced a multibillion-dollar submarine contract due to a partnership Australia fashioned with the US and the U.Ok. The secretly negotiated submarine venture, introduced in September and aimed toward countering Chinese language ambitions within the area, was an enormous blow to France. New Caledonia hosts considered one of two French navy bases within the Pacific.
The U.N. has supported New Caledonia’s decolonization course of and despatched electoral observers to watch Sunday’s vote. The Pacific Islands Discussion board additionally despatched a delegation to watch the vote.

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