The Latest: Macron: New Caledonians back keeping French ties
NOUMEA, New Caledonia — The Latest on New Caledonia’s independence referendum (all times local):
French President Emmanuel Macron says the majority of New Caledonians who voted in a referendum on independence chose to remain part of France.
In a televised address from Paris, Macron pledged “there is no other path than that of dialogue” on the future of the South Pacific archipelago that has been part of France since 1853.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will meet with officials in New Caledonia to discuss future plans.
The referendum was the result of a process that started 30 years ago to end years of violence between supporters and opponents of separating from France.
New Caledonian voters are supporting the “Non” vote against independence from France with more than half the votes now counted in the referendum on its future.
The office of the French High Commissioner for the South Pacific territory says the “Non” camp against independence has nearly 64 percent of the 80,990 votes counted so far.
In all, 174,000 people were registered to vote in Sunday’s ballot.
The Pacific archipelago became French in 1853 but the region’s native Kanak people faced severe discrimination under colonial rule. New Caledonia now receives about 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in French state subsidies every year, and many fear its economy would suffer if ties are severed.
Voter turnout in New Caledonia’s independence referendum was so high that some polling stations had to stay open later than planned.
The office for the high commissioner of the French territory in the South Pacific says some polling stations in Noumea, the capital, closed about an hour late Sunday evening because they had large lines of people still waiting to vote at the planned closing time.
Earlier, the commissioner estimated that about three-quarters of registered voters in the South Pacific archipelago cast ballots.
Anne-Marie-Mestre, a member of a committee that oversaw the referendum campaign, said the high turnout reinforced the legitimacy of the vote on whether to break free from France.
She said: “No one will be able to cast doubt on the representativeness and sincerity of the vote. All age groups were represented and mobilized.”
First results are trickling in from the independence referendum in New Caledonia, with a village of about 600 people the first to declare, voting overwhelmingly against a split from France.
New Caledonia’s High Commissioner tweeted that Farino on the territory’s main island voted by a margin of 9 to 1 against independence, and that nearly 95 percent of the village’s registered voters cast ballots.
Fuller results from far more heavily populated areas are expected later Sunday.
Voters have turned out in exceptional numbers to decide whether the French South Pacific territory should break free from the European country that claimed it in 1853.
Voters have turned out in exceptional numbers to decide whether the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia should break free from the European country that claimed it in the mid-19th century.
The territory’s High Commissioner estimated that close to three-quarters of the territory’s registered voters had cast ballots an hour before polls closed Sunday evening, a far more robust turnout than in New Caledonia’s provincial election in 2014.
Results were expected later Sunday. From Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron was to speak about the territory’s future and its choice in a televised address.
The independence vote marked a milestone for the archipelago of 270,000 people that lies east of Australia and has sun-kissed lagoons as well as a nickel mining industry.
The archipelago became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III.