A majority of voters in New Caledonia, an archipelago in the South Pacific, chose Sunday to remain part of France instead of backing independence. The referendum marked a milestone moment in a three-decade-long decolonization effort, the AP reports. In a televised address from Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed "an expression of confidence in the Republic with a deep feeling of gratitude ... and modesty." Macron promised pro-independence supporters that "this is with you, all together, that we will build New Caledonia tomorrow." He praised the "success" of the vote and called on New Caledonia residents to "look to the future." New Caledonia has been part of France since 1853.The overseas ministry said results show 53.3% of the votes were cast for maintaining ties with France, while 46.7% supported independence.
Turnout was high. More than 85% of voters had cast their ballots one hour before poll stations closed, according to the overseas ministry. Some polling stations in Noumea, the capital, closed an hour late because people were still in long lines. The referendum was among the final steps of plans initiated in 1988 to settle tensions between native Kanaks seeking independence and residents willing to remain in France. Two years ago, 56.4% of voters who participated in a similar referendum chose to keep the archipelago's ties with Paris. "Today is not a day like any other. Everyone woke up with the will to express oneself," one voter said. "This is a historic day." Saying she voted to "remain French," a woman said, "We can live together, all races together, and design our common future." A man supporting independence said: "We want the recognition of our identity, our culture. I think we are able to manage ourselves."
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