The French Pacific islands of New Caledonia vote on Sunday to decide whether they want to become an independent nation in a closely watched test of France's support in one of its many areas scattered around the world.
About 18,000 kilometers) From mainland France, New Caledonia owns a quarter of the world's known nickel reserves – an important electronic component – and is a strategic foundation for France in the Pacific.
About 175,000 people are eligible to vote The remote islands are lined with spectacular beaches, and opinion polls predict a large majority for the whereabouts of the French.
But there are fears that the referendum cooked the tensions between indigenous Kanak people, who prefer independence, and the white population, which could be prone to fatal violence in the 1980s.
The civil war had claimed nearly 70 casualties. This led to the Noumea Agreement of 1998, which paved the way for the steady division of powers and the referendum on Sunday.
On Friday, separatist activists drove in a convoy of about 20 cars along the Noumea waterfront, waving the Kanak flag "Kanaky" – their name for New Caledonia.
The separatists have asked Kanak voters to opt for self-determination by shedding the shackles of the "colonial authorities" in Paris.
But Native Americans Make Up Less Than 50 Percent Voters and some Kanaks remain part of France, not least because of the 1.3 billion euros the French state spends each year on the islands.
Alone: "I'm not sure we all have a fortune we would need to succeed," said Marc Gnipate, a 62-year-old retiree.
Surveys suggest that between 63 and 75 percent of voters would choose not to break up in France, which claimed the islands in 1853 and used them once as a penal colony.
Under the deal of 1998, the eve of a no two further referendums on independence can be held before 2022.
– Balancing China in the Pacific? –
French President Emmanuel Macron will make a televised speech on Sunday after the results at 1200 GMT (23.00 Noumea time).
He has largely stayed away from the campaign, but declared during a visit to Noumea in Möge "France to be less beautiful without New Caledonia".
Macron also expressed concerns about the increasing Chinese influence in the Pacific, where Beijing has invested heavily in Vanuatu, an area that broke out of France and Britain in 1980.
Macron accuses the US of turning its back on the region in recent months, saying China is gradually building its hegemony in the Pacific – an independent New Caledonia could take Beijing's next footstep.
Australia has also done so expressing concern about China's activities in the neighboring island states – which, according to estimates of the Lowy Institute's think tank of $ 1.78 billion, were funded by Beijing in 2006-16 to its own Increase expenses.
While Austral Regarding the independence of New Caledonia, he remains officially neutral. Canberra's former Consul General in Noumea Denise Fisher said France's stability is valued given China's rise in the Pacific.
"It was fortunate that Australia has good facilities A Western ally like France was involved in the region, especially at a time when many geostrategic changes are occurring and new players like China are coming to the region," said she's the ABC.
"There are now some uncertainties"
With 269,000 inhabitants, New Caledonia is one of the few French outposts on the island – a legacy of the 19th-century empire – which continues to have strategic importance.
The referendum will be a test of the appeal of the remainder of France for those remote territories that are heavily dependent on state handouts, but in which many in Paris see themselves as overlooked.
Both French Guiana in South America and the Mayotte archipelago in the Indian Ocean have been shaken since last year by fierce protests against living standards and neglect.
In New Caledonia, there are fears that the vote could expose tensions over the major inequalities that exist despite the government's efforts to restore economic equilibrium in favor of the Kanaks.
"In Noumea, people earn a salary, but in the tribes, no one earns a salary or any monetary income," said Kanak activist Elie Poigoune.
The Kanak community is plagued by chronic school drop-outs unemployment and poor housing.
The gangs of juvenile offenders have become more common on the street, and both sides fear violence when the no comes to light.