A French territory today flirted with independence

A French territory today flirted with independence

It is 38 years since a French territory became independent and the Republic of Vanuatu originated in the South Pacific. This weekend it was time again, in neighboring New Caledonia.

The citizens of this archipelago, 750 miles (1,207 km) east of Australia, went to the polls on 4 November to answer the question, "Would you like New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?"

The Pro Independence team lost, but with a narrow lead, as predicted in some polls. The results showed that 56.4% of the voters supported the remaining part of France and 43.6% supported the resignation. About 81% of the 175,000 people eligible to vote participate in the election.

The French overseas territory including its territories off the coasts of North and South America, the Indian Ocean and Antartica remains intact for the time being.

A troubled story

New Caledonia is valuable for France for economic and political reasons. The former penal colony (until the end of the 19th century) is "an asset to the French," explains the BBC. The area claims 25% of the world's nickel supply, a metal used in electronics manufacturing.

Kanaken, an indigenous people, make up almost 40% of the population. In the 1980s, several independent Kanaks launched a campaign to free themselves from France. This conflict eventually led to the deaths of 19 Kanaks and four French soldiers in a shocking hostage-taking of French policemen. Shaken by the bloodshed, in 1988 the warring factions concluded a peace agreement promising that the issue would be revisited in 20 years.

Although some Kanaks are supposed to support France, the indigenous group had suffered under French control. They are forced to "live off of reserves in remote areas, pay certain taxes, and do compulsory labor for very low wages," reports AP News. Some places were forbidden the Kanaks, who had to keep the curfew.

In 1946, New Caledonia gained autonomy, although Paris supports its economy with annual subsidies of 1.3 billion euros. Ethnically speaking, European citizens make up nearly 30% of the population and their affiliation to France remains strong.

During a visit to this area last spring, French President Emmanuel Macron said his country would be "less beautiful without New Caledonia".

After today's vote, he fainted: "I have to tell you how proud I am that we have finally made this historic step together."

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