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Macron visits New Caledonia ahead of independence referendum

In this Sept. 22, 2005 file photo, locals on the beach in Noumea, New Caledonia, play the traditional ball game "petanque." (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (AP) -- French President Emmanuel Macron starts Thursday a highly symbolic visit to New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific that is getting ready to vote on its independence.

    Macron's visit comes just six months ahead of a self-determination referendum in which voters will answer the question: "Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?"

    Observers say that, based on electoral results and recent polls, the people are likely to vote to remain in France.

    During his visit, Macron will hand the Caledonian government the document that stated the archipelago became a French possession in 1853.

    He will also attend Saturday ceremonies marking the 30th anniversary of when Kanak tribesmen took French police hostage on Ouvea island. Four gendarmes and 19 hostage-takers died.

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