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Asia-Pacific

New Caledonia referendum question formulated after hours of deliberation

media President of the Government of New Caledonia Philippe Germain (centre) sits with New Caledonian Senator Gerard Poadja (2nd right) and New Caledonian politician Philippe Gomes (right) during a meeting in Paris on March 27, 2018. Stephane de Sakutin/Pool via Reuters

With seven months left for the referendum on the independence of the French territory of New Caledonia, a compromise was reached on Wednesday on the question to be asked during the referendum vote.

Following a marathon meeting between the supporters and opponents of self-determination that lasts for 15 hours, the following formulation was adopted: ‘Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?’

This is the question which the New Caledonians will have to answer, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told the media on Wednesday.

Lawmakers on the tiny French territory in the Pacific voted on March 19 to hold the referendum on November 4.

Better known for its stunning lagoons, pristine Pacific beaches and diverse wildlife, New Caledonia has seen years of bitter political feuding between independence advocates and those who are determined to remain part of France.

Unrest shook the islands in the mid-1980s with as many as seventy people thought to have been killed.

An agreement was signed between France and New Caledonia in 1998 that promised greater autonomy for the archipelago and its indigenous Melanesian Kanak population.

Under the terms of that deal an independence referendum needed to be held by the end of 2018.

New Caledonia currently holds a unique position as an overseas possession that formulates its own tax, labour laws and trade policy but not defence or foreign policy.

But many of the archipelago's inhabitants, particularly within the indigenous Kanak community, want full independence.

Located less than 2000 km from Australia but more than 16,000 km from Paris, the territory boasts a quarter of the world's known resources of nickel, a core component in the manufacture of stainless steel, rechargeable batteries and coins.

But wealth is not evenly spread and backers of independence want major economic reform.

- with AFP

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