7 May 2018

Macron calls for unity as New Caledonia trip ends

6:47 am on 7 May 2018

The French president Emmanuel Macron has wrapped up his three-day visit to New Caledonia with an appeal to unity as the territory prepares for the November referendum on independence.

In his last speech in Noumea, he said it was not up to him as the head of state to assume a position on how to vote yet he added that France would not be the same without New Caledonia.

French President Emmanuel Macron meets locals in New Caledonia

French President Emmanuel Macron meets locals in New Caledonia Photo: AFP or licensors

He acknowledged the colonial past, the segregation of the indigenous Kanaks and said their struggle to regain their dignity has been just.

Mr Macron also paid tribute to the prisoners who were exiled to the colony and to the settlers who now make up New Caledonia.

He returned the deed with which France had taken possession of the territory in 1853.

Mr Macron also restated that he wanted New Caledonia to be part of France's Indo-Pacific zone, saying he didn't want the region under a new hegemony.

The comment was widely seen as an allusion to China whose soft power in the South Pacific has been expanding.

His speech was widely welcomed by New Caledonian leaders of all hues.

Pro-independence politicians said they appreciated the vision he articulated, noting that no matter the outcome of the vote, France would maintain interests in the region.

In France, the centre-right Republicans said Mr Macron had committed a major error by expressing impartiality.

The party's Eric Ciotti said the president's role was to guarantee the integrity of the French territory and not to be an observer on its soil.

He said Mr Macron had also used the language of the pro-independence camp, forgetting that France didn't possess New Caledonia because New Caledonia is France.

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