France’s Macron welcomes New Caledonia vote rejecting independence

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that “a period of transition” would begin for New Caledonia after voters overwhelmingly rejected independence, adding that “France is more beautiful” with the Pacific islands included.

“A period of transition is beginning. Free from the binary choice of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, we must now build a common project, while recognizing and respecting the dignity of everyone,” the head of state said in a recorded message.

He said that the country could be “proud” of the process designed to settle the status of the islands under which residents were asked in three separate referendums if they wished to break away from France.

“Tonight France is more beautiful because New Caledonia has decided to stay part of it,” Macron added.

With all ballots counted, 96.49 percent were against independence, while only 3.51 percent were in favor, with turn-out a mere 43.90 percent, results from the islands’ high commission showed.

Pro-independence campaigners boycotted the vote, saying they wanted it postponed to September because “a fair campaign” was impossible with high coronavirus infection numbers.

Observers say the result could exacerbate ethnic tensions, with the poorer indigenous Kanak community generally favoring independence over the wealthier white community.

Macron made no direct mention of the boycott, but he admitted that voters were “profoundly divided” and he expressed condolences to “all those who have lost a loved one.”

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