(NOUMEA, New Caledonia) – A majority of voters in the Southern Pacific region of New Caledonia have chosen to remain part of France rather than support independence on Sunday. This is a turning point that has led French President Emmanuel Macron to engage in a comprehensive dialogue on the EU, the future of the archipelago. 56.4% of voters who took part in the referendum decided to maintain relations with the country that ruled New Caledonia since the mid-19th century, and 43.6% support independence, said the Office of the High Commissioner. 19659002] "I ask everyone to go into the future to build tomorrow's New Caledonia," Macron said from the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris. "The spirit of dialogue is the only winner."
More than 1
The referendum reached a record 80.6% turnout – so many voters that some polling stations in the capital Noumea had to stay open about an hour longer than planned to cope with the rush.
The vote itself was a milestone in the three decades of decolonization of New Caledonia. a process triggered by the Europeans' abuse of the indigenous people of the Kanak region. New Caledonia, an archipelago in eastern Australia, has nickel mining and sun-drenched lagoons.
The High Commissioner's Office reported limited riots in Noumea when votes were counted, with seven cars in flames and some roads closed and two cases of stone throwing. Otherwise, the vote was mostly peaceful.
Macron said that both sides were praised for their "responsible" campaigns and said "contempt and violence" are the only losers in the historical poll.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will meet New Caledonian government officials will discuss the political future of the 270,000-plus territory on Monday.
New Caledonia receives about 1.3 billion euros in government subsidies each year in France, and many feared that the economy would suffer as a result of the collapse of relations.
Residents of the region include native Kanaks, who make up about 40% of the population, people of European descent who make up about 27%, and others from Asian countries and the Pacific Islands.
Voter Monette Saihulinwa said she refuses independence.
"I do not want our lives to change," said the 50-year-old.
Others refer to the ballot as historical.
"We have been waiting for 30 years for this vote," said Mariola Bouyer, 34. "This vote must show that we want to live in peace, regardless of our race and roots, and build a country together."  The referendum was the result of a process that began 30 years ago and ended years of violence between independent supporters and opponents who claimed more than 70 lives in total, and the two sides agreed on a deal in 1988 and another deal, a decade later, included plans for an independence referendum.
The archipelago of New Caledonia became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon's nephew and heir, and was used as a prison colony for decades.
After the Second World War, it became an overseas Territory All Kanaks were granted French citizenship in 1957. Under French colonial rule, di Kanaks were subjected to a strict segregation policy and suffered discrimination.