France welcomes the new president of New Caledonia ahead of the territory’s final independence vote


French Minister of Local Government Sébastien Lecornu delivers a statement after a video conference with the French President and French mayors at the Elysee Palace in Paris after the country began to gradually end the national lockdown following the coronavirus disease outbreak (COVID-19) in France, May 19, 2020. REUTERS / Gonzalo Fuentes / Swimming pool

PARIS, July 8 (Reuters) – The French Minister for Overseas Territories on Thursday welcomed the announcement by New Caledonia of the election of Louis Mapou as the first independence president since the 1998 agreement with Paris to grant more political power in the French territory of the Pacific.

New Caledonia, home to the business activities of Brazilian multinational mining company Vale (VALE3.SA) and French mining group Eramet (ERMT.PA), was hit by riots last year.

The archipelago became a French colony in 1853 and tensions have long been deep between the indigenous independentist Kanaks and the descendants of the settlers who remained loyal to Paris.

“I welcome the agreement reached by the government of New Caledonia to appoint its president. I congratulate Louis Mapou and wish him success: in Paris or by videoconference, I invite him to discuss the various subjects that we have in common “Sébastien Lecornu said on Twitter. .

The election comes a few months before the third and last referendum the island can legally hold on secession from France under the 1998 accord, known as the Noumea Accord. Read more

The previous referendums of 2018 and 2020 failed to secure a majority in favor of independence, but support for the rest of France fell from 56.7% in 2018 to 53.26% in 2020.

New Caledonia is located approximately 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Australia and 20,000 km (12,500 miles) from Paris.

Under French colonial rule, the Kanaks were confined to reservations and excluded from much of the island’s economy. The first revolt broke out in 1878, shortly after the discovery of large deposits of nickel.

Up to three referendums by 2022 have been authorized under the 1998 Noumea Accord, an agreement enshrined in the French constitution and which marked out a 20-year path towards decolonization.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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