Macron hails New Caledonia vote to ‘remain French’

France's President Emmanuel Macron. Picture: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

PARIS, 05 NOVEMBER 2018 (ALJAZEERA) – French President Emmanuel Macron said the “majority” of New Caledonians had declared they wanted the territory to “remain French”.

“Voters were allowed to make a sovereign choice, with full knowledge of the facts and the relationship between New Caledonia and France,” Macron said in a televised statement from the Elysee Palace in the French capital, Paris, on Sunday.

“I am proud we have finally passed this historic step together,” he added.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, said the results suggested a “victory for those that said New Caledonia was much better off economically as part of France”.

“France gives about US$1.5bn a year to New Caledonia, that’s about 15 percent of its GDP, that would have been missed,” Thomas said.

“There was concern, too, that an independent New Caledonia would quickly fall under the sphere of influence of China, which has an increasing footprint right across the Pacific,” he added.

“Other Pacific island nations receive a lot of Chinese money in terms of aid projects and infrastructure but in return, Beijing expects political favours.””

New Caledonia, a cluster of islands home to about 270,000 people, is situated nearly 17,000km southeast of France.

The territory’s indigenous Kanak people make up about 40 percent of its population, with those of European descent constituting about 27 percent.

France claimed the islands in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III – Napoleon’s nephew and heir – and used them to hold prisoners.

It later became an overseas territory, after World War II, with French citizenship granted to all Kanaks in 1957.

Under French colonial rule, the Kanaks faced strict segregation policies and suffered discrimination, and violent clashes between officials and the territory’s indigenous people took place throughout the 1980s.

A peace deal struck in 1988 ended the unrest and paved the way for a future agreement, signed in 1998, on holding a referendum on independence by the end of 2018.

Sunday’s vote was the first on self-determination to be held in a French territory since Djibouti in the Horn of Africa opted for independence during a poll in 1977.

A result in favour of independence would have seen New Caledonia become the world’s newest state, overtaking South Sudan, which declared independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011.

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