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New Caledonia: Pro-independence parties win majority in snap elections

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A man casts his vote in Noumea, New Caledonia, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, during a referendum whether voters choose independence from France.
A man casts his vote in Noumea, New Caledonia, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, during a referendum whether voters choose independence from France.   -   Copyright  Mathurin Derel/Associated Press
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Pro-independence parties won a majority in the collegiate government of New Caledonia on Wednesday for the first time after the pro-France government imploded earlier this month.

Independentists increased their standing to six out of eleven cabinet members for the first time in 30 years since the Noumea Accord signed in 1998 brought an end to years of violence.

The election of a new government, according to a ballot of lists by the 54 elected members of the island's Congress, came after the fall on February 2 of the previous executive which had a loyalist majority.

The independentists managed to win the election thanks to an alliance with a small fringe party, the Eveil Océanien (EO), whose three elected members voted for the Union Calédonienne-FLNKS list. This list saw the election of three ministers.

The other nationalist list topped by the National Union for Independence-FLNKS (UNI-FLNKS) also obtained three members in the new cabinet.

On the other side, the pro-France loyalist parties were divided into two lists: that of the majority coalition from which the outgoing president came, the Avenir en Confiance (AEC) which won four ministerial portfolios thanks to 18 votes out of 54 in Congress, and Caledonie Ensemble, a centre-right party, which won one.

However, the election did not go as planned because the UC-FLNKS hoped to secure one more seat instead of the three it did win which would have also allowed a representative of the Eveil Océanien to be in the government.

Summoned by France's High Commissioner, the 11 members of the government must meet at the end of the day to elect a president and a vice-president from among its members.

The government collapsed earlier this month after pro-independence ministers resigned over plans to sell an economically-important local nickel mine to a multinational company.

The move has provoked a wave of violent protests, including the throwing of Molotov cocktails and the destruction of equipment and vehicles at the mine.

The management of the natural resource has been central to the drive for independence from France, which turned violent in the 1980s and resulted in the Noumea Accords in 1998.

Under the peace agreement, three independence referendums can be held up to 2022. So far, the result of the last two ballots in 2018 and 2020 showed islanders favoured remaining a French overseas territory but pro-independence support is continuing to rise.