Asia-Pacific

New Caledonia profile

New Caledonia map

A French overseas territory in the Pacific, New Caledonia has seen deep divisions between its indigenous people the Kanaks, and its European population, most notably over the thorny question of independence.

Kanaks represent around 45% of the population while Europeans, most of whom were born in the territory, make up about a third.

Signed in 1998, the Noumea Accord set the timetable for a vote on the territory's independence from France to be held by the end of 2018.

As well as having one of the region's highest average incomes per capita, New Caledonia has around a quarter of the world's nickel deposits.

The archipelago's main island Grande Terre is ringed by a massive coral reef and is home to the capital, Noumea. Mountains divide the verdant east from a drier west. The territory boasts an abundance of plant and animal life.

Colonial buildings and fine beaches contrast with the infrastructure of the nickel industry.

FACTS

New Caledonia

French overseas territory

  • Population 259,000

  • Area 18,575 sq km (7,172 sq miles)

  • Major languages French (official), Melanesian and Polynesian dialects

  • Major religions Christianity, indigenous beliefs

  • Life expectancy 74 years (men), 80 years (women)

  • Currency Pacific franc

AFP

LEADER

Head of state: The President of France

President of government: Philippe Germain

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Germain belongs to the anti-independence majority on New Caledonia's power-sharing executive

Philippe Germain, of the anti-independence Caledonia Together party, was elected head of the territory's autonomous government in April 2015, ending a four-month political crisis.

The deadlock began after the previous executive led by Cynthia Lygeard collapsed in December 2014 over differences within the 11-member dominant anti-independence majority.

For months after, neither Mr Germain nor Ms Lygeard, from the rival anti-independence Front for Unity party, were able to win enough votes to be elected, until the pro-independence minority agreed to choose between them.

New Caledonia has a power-sharing executive elected by the territory's Congress, which ensures that all parties on it are represented in proportion to their number of seats in Congress.

After being elected, the executive then chooses its president from among its members.

At a national level, New Caledonia is represented in the French parliament by two deputies and two senators.

MEDIA

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Established in 1971, Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes is the sole daily in the territory.

Private radio stations operate alongside TV and radio services provided by the French public overseas broadcaster, Reseau France Outre-mer (RFO).

TIMELINE

1500 BC - First inhabitants are the Lapita people followed by the Polynesians in 1000 BC.

1774 - British explorer James Cook names the island New Caledonia after the Latin name for Scotland.

1853 - Annexed by France, which uses the territory as a penal colony. The discovery of nickel deposits leads the development of the mining industry.

1878 - Kanak revolt - The territory's indigenous people clash with French settlers over their loss of land, heralding further repression by the French.

1980s - Rising pro-independence sentiment leads to violent unrest.

1988 - Matignon Accord marks a reconciliation between Kanak and European communities by proposing an end to direct rule from Paris and a vote on independence in 1998.

1998 - Noumea Accord sets a timetable for the gradual transfer of responsibilities from France to the territory and postponing a planned 1998 referendum on independence to between 2014-2019.

2006 - French parliament votes to restrict voting rights of French citizens in the territory - long sought by Kanaks.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Cultural Center Tjibaou in Noumea, capital of New Caledonia

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