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France’s New Caledonia to hold independence vote in 2020

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French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe leaves the Elysee palace in Paris after the weekly cabinet meeting. (Photo by ludovic MARIN / AFP)

France’s Pacific island territory of New Caledonia said Tuesday it will hold a new independence referendum on September 6, following a first vote a year ago which saw separatists score much higher than expected.

Tensions between pro-France supporters and independence advocates, mainly ethnic Kanaks, have been strained since the 1980s when fighting erupted that killed more than 70 people.

A 1998 peace deal ended the violence by granting increasing autonomy to the Pacific island archipelago, which sits atop roughly a quarter of the world’s known nickel reserves.

The so-called Noumea deal also called for up to three referendums by 2022 for the territory’s roughly 270,000 people, with the first held last November.

That vote showed 43.3 percent in favour of splitting, bolstering separatists’ hopes while raising questions over support for France among its overseas territories that dot the globe.

New Caledonia, in particular, is seen as key for Paris as it grapples with China’s rising ambitions in the Pacific.

Kanak leaders believe they will rally more support as time goes on, and pressed to hold the second vote as late as possible.

Pro-France advocates, mainly white descendants of early European settlers to the territory, which has been part of France since 1853, were pressing for a vote as early as next July.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has overseen talks with representatives from both sides, notified the authorities in Noumea on Tuesday of the compromise date of September 6.


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