High turnout in New Caledonia's independence referendum

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High turnout in New Caledonia's independence referendum
A woman prepares her ballot at a polling station in Noumea, New Caledonia, as part of an independence referendum, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018. Voters in New Caledonia are deciding whether the French territory in the South Pacific should break free from the European country that claimed it in the mid-19th century. (AP Photo/Mathurin Derel)

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (AP) — Voters have turned out in exceptional numbers in a referendum to decide whether the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia should break free from the European country that claimed it in the mid-19th century.

The territory’s High Commissioner estimated that close to three-quarters of registered voters had cast ballots an hour before polls closed. Results were expected later Sunday.

The independence vote marked a milestone for the archipelago that lies east of Australia and has sun-kissed lagoons as well as a mining industry for nickel, a metal used in electronics manufacturing.

More than 174,000 registered voters were invited to answer the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?”