16 Dec 2002

Protest planned in New Caledonia during visit of French Minister

7:09 am on 16 December 2002

Two demonstrations are planned in New Caledonia today to coincide with the start of an official four day visit of the French minister in charge of overseas territories, Brigette Girardin.

The French news agency, AFP, says one demonstration by several political parties, unions and interests groups is to highlight their displeasure at the dominant RPCR Party's decision to allocate the Prony nickel deposit to the Canadian Inco nickel mining company.

Inco has planned to invest one point five billion US dollars in a new smelter, but the project was put on hold ten days ago amid concern at a likely 500 million US dollar cost overrun.

A second demonstration has been called by the President of the Territorial Congress, Simon Loueckhote, of the RPCR to show New Caledonia's support for the French republic.

Before leaving Paris, Mrs Girardin said she would confirm France's commitment to the Noumea Accord, which stipulates that New Caledonia be run under a collegial system of government.

Last month, the administration collapsed and a new government was formed, but divisions remain, with the pro-independence group still boycotting cabinet meetings over the RPCR's stance on a range of issues.

On Thursday, Mrs Girardin will continue her familiarisation tour with a three day visit to Wallis and Futuna.