Voters in New Caledonia have rejected full independence from France again, avoiding what would have been an embarrassing loss of face for Paris.
The South Pacific archipelago north of New Zealand and 20,000km from France, voted 53.26% to remain, a narrower margin of victory than in a similar 2018 poll.
President Emmanuel Macron said: “Voters confirmed their wish to keep New Caledonia a part of France. I salute this show of confidence in the Republic.”
New Caledonia was colonised by France in 1853. Under French rule the indigenous Kanaks were confined to reserves and discriminated against by European colonial settlers.
Even now, the Kanak people tend to be of lower socio-economic status than the Europeans and other settlers, many of whom originate from Southeast Asia.
The majority of Kanaks support independence but descendants of colonial settlers remain loyal to Paris.
The population of nearly 300,000 depends on yearly French subsidies of over €1.3 billion (RM6 billion), the exploitation of massive nickel deposits and tourism.
This year the islands have isolated themselves from the outside world because of Covid-19. There have been 27 cases reported so far.
The vote contrasts with Barbados where this year the people voted to remove Queen Elizabeth as head of state.