6 Dec 2010

Tributes flow after death of New Caledonia's Lafleur

4:15 pm on 6 December 2010

French politicians have paid tribute to New Caledonia's veteran leader, Jacques Lafleur, who died aged 78 in Australia at the weekend.

The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, says Mr Lafleur embodied a commitment to maintaining New Caledonia as a part of France.

He says as an astute and passionate politician, Mr Lafleur has always been able, when the essentials were at stake, to extend a hand to his adversaries to avoid violence and division in New Caledonia.

The French prime minister Francois Fillon said his handshake with the pro-independence leader, Jean-Marie Tjibaou allowed for a shared future to be built by all communities in New Caledonia.

A former French socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, who was in power when the 1998 Noumea Accord was signed, said an ongoing dialogue maintained by Mr Lafleur at the time allowed them to avoid and put an end to what was then turning into yet another colonial tragedy for France.

Flags in New Caledonia will be flown at half mast until the burial, tentatively scheduled for the end of the week.