25 Jul 2003

French president continues visit to New Caledonia

10:18 am on 25 July 2003

New Caledonia's mainly Kanak USTKE union has decided to remain on strike for the duration of the French president, Jacques Chirac's visit to the territory.

The president will be in the territory until Saturday.

President Chirac told an estimated 15-thousand people in the capital, Noumea, yesterday that he hopes France and New Caledonia can work together hand in hand in determining the territory's future.

Mr Chirac's speech made no mention of a key clause in the 1998 Noumea accord on greater autonomy which provides for a freeze of the electorate to ensure Kanaks will not be outnumbered by French migrants in future votes.

The clause has not been implemented because the constitution has not changed accordingly.

Mr Chirac will spend this morning in New Caledonia's northern province meeting executives of the territory's three main nickel mining and processing projects.

Two processing plants are planned in the north and south and a third existing plant in Noumea is being expanded.

Mr Chirac has already said that France sees the project in the north as a priority in the economic rebalancing of the territory.

He says France will do its best to assist so the project can be carried through.