Macron relieved as New Caledonia rejects independence – but could face new vote in 2 years

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The South Pacific archipelago took to the polls today for the second independence referendum in as many years. A “yes” vote would have seen New Caledonia cut ties with France after almost 170 years in what would have been a major blow to the French President.

But “no” won with 53.26 percent to 46.7 percent.

Mr Macron said: “Voters have had their say.

“They confirmed their wish to keep New Caledonia a part of France.

“As head of state, I salute this show of confidence in the Republic with a profound feeling of gratitude.”

The result is likely to be a huge relief to the French President who has been preoccupied with the coronavirus crisis.

But there could be a third and final independence referendum held within two years.

The referendum was the second of up to three allowed under the terms of the 1998 Noumea Accord.

The agreement is enshrined in France’s constitution and sets out a 20-year path towards decolonisation.

The margin of victory in Sunday’s referendum was narrower than the 2018 poll.

Turnout was high at 85.6 percent of eligible voters.

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Mr Macron said that France was ready to hold a third referendum within two years if it was called for by New Caledonia.

But he insisted at that point both sides would have to accept the result.

The French President said: “We have two years to look to the future.”

New Caledonia became a French colony in 1853.

The territory has a large degree of autonomy but depends on France for matters such as defence and education.

There have been long-running tensions between pro-independence indigenous Kanaks and descendants of colonial settlers who remain loyal to Paris.

A “yes” vote would have deprived Paris of a foothold in a region where China is expanding its influence.

The loss of New Caledonia would have also been a massive dent in the pride of a colonial power whose reach once spanned large parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

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