Asia-Pacific

New Caledonia to remain part of France

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French President Emmanuel Macron says he's proud the majority of New Caledonians chose to stay with France, after 56.4 per cent voted "no" to independence.

The South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia has voted against independence from France in a long-awaited referendum, as French President Emmanuel Macron promised a full dialogue on the region's future.

Macron announced the result hours after polls closed in Sunday's referendum.

"I'm asking everyone to turn toward the future to build tomorrow's New Caledonia," Macron said from the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris.

"The spirit of dialogue is the sole winner."

The referendum was mandated under peace agreements in 1988 and 1998 between pro-independence forces mainly backed by the native Kanak community and pro-French forces largely supported by descendants of European settlers.

Official results showed 43.6 per cent of voters opting for independence, with 56.4 per cent opposed.

Turnout was just over 80.6 per cent of the 174,995-strong electorate, which only included residents with a long-standing connection to the territory.

But local results varied widely in the ethnically diverse territory, where Kanaks make up some 39 per cent of the population while 27 per cent identify as Europeans.

More than 90 per cent of votes in some mainly Kanak areas were for "yes", while other communities with a mainly European population voted strongly for "no".

Local TV station La1ere cited police as saying that some cars had been stoned and others set on fire in some districts of the capital Noumea, marring what had been a peaceful campaign.

The vote does not necessarily mark the end of independence efforts.

Under the 1998 agreement, there can be two further votes within the next four years.

Macron said the French government would bring the local political forces together to discuss the next steps, with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe due in the territory on Monday to start talks.

Pro-French political leader Philippe Michel also called for discussions, saying that while results showed that pro-French forces remained the majority, support for independence remains "very important" in New Caledonia.

More than ever, "we must sit around the table and discuss matters", he told La1ere.

But pro-independence politician Charles Washetine insisted his side was not giving up.

"The option of independence remains and we will complete the process," he told the broadcaster.

In Paris, the right-wing Les Republicains opposition party and far-right National Rally welcomed the vote against independence.

Les Republicains leader Laurent Wauquiez hailed it as a "historic moment".

New Caledonia was torn by several years of violence in the 1980s, ending with the peace deal of 1988 which provided for autonomy in three provinces, two with a Kanak majority.

The later 1998 agreement extended that autonomy, set the 2018 deadline for the independence vote, and recognised historic injustices against the Kanaks.

New Caledonia, which lies 1200 kilometres east of Australia and 18,000km from Paris, now formulates its own laws, including for taxation and labour.

But Paris controls its police, defence and foreign relations and also provides some $US1.5 billion ($A2.1 billion) every year.

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