SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, July 4) - Preparations for French President Jacques Chirac’s planned visit later this month in New Caledonia are in full swing, both in the capital and in the most remote outer islands of the French Pacific territory, Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie reports.

In Nouméa, downtown public and private buildings, businesses, offices, are getting a major facelift, three weeks ahead of the Presidential stopover, July 23 to 25.

However, most residents and public institutions are reluctant to admit this is the reason for their current renovations and heavy facade re-painting.

Some said this was a coincidence and that renovations had been planned a long time ago.

Others were close to admitting, but said they were not even sure whether the French President "would visit our premises at all".

Another group said this was all a result of cyclone Erica, which on March 14 caused major damage to buildings and infrastructure in Nouméa and the rest of the French territory.

In the remote Loyalty Islands, on Lifou, villagers are also busy building new traditional huts, or "fares," and re-painting the few public buildings.

Jean-Marie Tane, an official driver, says he is very excited.

17 years ago, he was there when Chirac, then a French Prime Minster and Paris Lord Mayor, last visited the island.

"He spent a night here," Tane said.

In French Polynesia, where Chirac is scheduled to spend three days after the New Caledonian leg, local authorities are planning to name a prominent square in the capital Pape’ete after Jacques Chirac.

July 7, 2003

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