5 Dec 2010

New Caledonia's Jacques Lafleur dies aged 78

3:42 pm on 5 December 2010

New Caledonia's veteran politician, Jacques Lafleur, has died at the age of 78.

Mr Lafleur, who had been in poor health, died in hospital in Australia after suffering a heart attack in his home in Queensland.

He had been the territory's most influential anti-independence politician in recent decades and was a signatory of both the 1988 Matignon Accords and the 1998 Noumea accord which chart the territory's path to a possible referendum on independence.

Mr Lafleur was the president of the southern province from 1989 until 2004 and also a member of the French assembly for 29 years until 2007.

He lost much of his influence in the 2004 election when his anti-independence side split, and failed to retain his assembly seat in Paris in 2007.

He officially quit politics last April.

The New Caledonian president, Philippe Gomes, says Mr Lafleur was a giant on the territory's political scene and the president of the Congress, Harold Martin, says Mr Lafleur saved New Caledonia and gave it a perspective.