Second deadlocked vote leaves France's Pacific idyll in turmoil

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The Independent Online

One of France's most exotic colonial possessions, the South Pacific territory of French Polynesia, has been plunged into political crisis after elections left pro- and anti-independence parties with an equal share of parliamentary seats.

One of France's most exotic colonial possessions, the South Pacific territory of French Polynesia, has been plunged into political crisis after elections left pro- and anti-independence parties with an equal share of parliamentary seats.

Tensions have been high in the archipelago, which includes the principal island of Tahiti, since the election last May of Oscar Temaru, the first president to favour cutting ties with Paris. He ousted Gaston Flosse - a close ally of President Jacques Chirac - who had been in power for nearly two decades.

Mr Flosse was reinstated after Mr Temaru lost a confidence vote, a move that brought 15,000 protesters on to the streets of the Tahitian capital, Papeete. With both men refusing to relinquish their claim to the presidency, France's highest administrative court - the Council of State - stepped in, ordering fresh elections in the main population centres of Tahiti and Moorea.

But Monday's vote did not resolve the deadlock. Mr Flosse, a conservative who has been accused of corruption and economic mismanagement, now holds 27 seats in the national assembly. Mr Temaru, a long-time opponent of the French nuclear tests that were staged in the country until the mid-1990s, also controls 27. Both are now courting a small centrist party, the Alliance for a New Democracy, which won three seats and favours retaining the close links with France.

The turmoil belies Tahiti's image as a South Pacific paradise, fostered by early European visitors who returned with tales of mist-shrouded mountains and sexually uninhibited women. The mutiny on HMS Bounty in 1789 was blamed on the lure of the island. The 118 islands and atolls of French Polynesia were annexed by France in the 19th century and, despite gradual moves towards autonomy, Paris still controls law enforcement, defence and money supply.

Monday's elections were seen as a referendum on independence, but the population appears to be split down the middle . One independence supporter said: "We want to stand on our own two feet. We're sick of France running the country for the benefit of the French." But many are reluctant to jeopardise the high standard of living they enjoy.

Last year France threatened to cut all funding if Mr Temaru was elected. Mr Temaru has accused France of conspiring to get Mr Flosse reinstated.

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