French South Pacific territory narrowly rejects independence in a referendum, with the 'no' camp bagging 53.26 percent and the 'yes' camp receiving 46.7 percent of votes.
The South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia has voted against independence from France in a referendum.
The 'no' camp won 53.26 percent of the vote on Sunday, a narrower margin of victory than in a previous referendum in 2018. About 46.7 percent supported independence.
As the "no" vote is confirmed, it became to be the second failed attempt by pro-independence supporters to gain full sovereignty in the past two years.
Tensions have long run deep between pro-independence indigenous Kanaks and descendants of colonial settlers who remain loyal to Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the referendum result with "gratitude".
Voting starts in French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia in an independence referendum, with voters expected to reject breaking away from France after almost 170 years pic.twitter.com/k8bivs7656— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) October 4, 2020
More than 180,000 long-term residents of New Caledonia were registered to vote "yes" or "no" on the question: "Do you want New Caledonia to gain its full sovereignty and become independent?"
Turnout was high, the partial results showed 86 percent of eligible voters had cast a ballot, after a stronger-than-expected independence vote in the 2018 referendum.
Across the archipelago, horns and cheers could be heard all day in the streets, and some people waved pro-independence flags in a relaxed atmosphere.
Sunday's referendum was the second of up to three permitted under the terms of the 1998 Noumea Accord, an agreement enshrined in France's constitution and which set out a 20-year path towards decolonisation.
"Today is not a day like any other. Everyone woke up with the will to express oneself (through the vote). This is a historic day," said Robert Wayaridri, 60.
Corine Florentin, who was born in Noumea 52 years ago, said she voted against independence because she wants to "remain French."
"We can live together, all races together, and design our common future," she said.
A student at the University of New Caledonia, Guillaume Paul, 18, also voted "no" because he wants the archipelago to keep its ties with France.
"What would the country become if it was independent? There is a real danger that without the financing brought by France, the university would disappear," he said.
Historic and economic ties
New Caledonia, an island chain some 1,200 km east of Australia and 20,000 km from Paris, enjoys a large degree of autonomy but depends heavily on France for matters such as defence and education.
New Caledonia became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon’s nephew and heir, and was used for decades as a prison colony.
It became an overseas territory after World War II, with French citizenship granted to all Kanaks in 1957.
The archipelago now counts 270,000 inhabitants, including both native Kanaks, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination, and descendants of European colonisers.
Its economy is underpinned by annual French subsidies of some $1.5 billion and nickel deposits that are estimated to represent 25 percent of the world's total, and tourism.
The territory has, however, largely cut itself off from the outside world to shield itself from the coronavirus. It has registered only 27 cases of Covid-19.