New Caledonia Votes to Stay Part of France
Earlier in the week, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged that Paris would take no side in a referendum on independence in New Caledonia, other than to ensure fair and smooth proceedings.
A referendum on independence has wrapped in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, with 96.49% of voters saying no to the proposal and 3.51% supporting it.
The third and final independence referendum took place in the tiny Pacific island on Sunday, which saw a record low turnout as pro-independence supporters called for a boycott over the COVID-19 pandemic.
The French Embassy in New Caledonia previously said that over 41% of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 5 p.m. local time (06:00 GMT) on Sunday, as compared to almost 80% at that stage in the 2020 vote. During Sunday's vote, participants were supposed to decide on whether they "want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent".
President Emmanuel Macron, for his part, pledged that the French state would sit on the fence during the referendum and that "the day after [the vote], whatever the result is, there will be a shared life" between New Caledonia and France.
The pro-independence Socialist Kanak Liberation Front (FLNKS) earlier urged indigenous Kanaks not to take part in the referendum arguing that the coronavirus pandemic had made their "fair campaign" impossible.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters on Friday that "with the sanitary situation improving in New Caledonia and after again consulting New Caledonian authorities we decided to keep the [referendum] date of 12 December".
The Pacific island's 270,000 inhabitants were mainly spared during the pandemic's first phase, but they have suffered about 300 COVID deaths since the recent appearance of the Delta variant.
4 October 2020, 11:31 GMT
A territory with about 185,000 voters located around 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) east of Australia, New Caledonia was granted three independence referendums in line with the 1988 Noumea Accord aimed at easing ethnic tensions between the poorer indigenous Kanak community favouring independence and the wealthier white portion of the population.
The agreement stipulates New Caledonia holding three referendums on independence: in 2018, and two more in 2020 and 2021 if the previous ones did not result in independence. During the 2018 and 2020 votes, New Caledonians said "no" breaking away from France.