THE majority of people in the French territory of New Caledonia stayed away from a referendum on independence for the Pacific island.

Results published by the French High Commission based in the island's capital of Noumea on Monday showed a turnout of just 43.9% of voters.

They also showed that 96.5% of those that did vote on Sunday (December 12) opposed independence. 

The indigenous Kanak population who favour independence, called for people not to take part in the vote after France rejected a request to delay the ballot to allow for a traditional 12-month mourning period due to a September surge in coronavirus infections.

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New Caledonia's congress president, Roch Wamytan, a pro-independence leader told Franceinfo radio: "This referendum, for us, is not the third referendum. We consider that there are only two legitimate referendums. 2018 and 2020. This referendum is the referendum of the French state, not ours.

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"The Caledonians have chosen to remain French. They decided that freely," French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address.

"We can't ignore that the electorate remained deeply divided over the years ... A period of transition is now starting," he added.

Abstentions stood at 56.13%, blank ballots at 1.43% and null ballots at 1.56%.

READ MORE: Let's look at New Caledonia's independence referendum

The vote, the third and final ballot on the issue, follows two previous polls in 2018 and 2020 in which the "no" vote got 57% and 53% respectively.

Three votes were prescribed by a deal agreed after a decade of talks on the island's future which began in 1988.

Fighting erupted in the territory in the 1980s between independence supporters and those who want to stay in France.

The island is located 1200km (750 miles) to the east of Australia and is 20,000km (12,000 miles) away from France.