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French president deplores recent violence

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Aug. 25, 2011) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for rival groups in New Caledonia to show restraint following recent deadly protests.

President Sarkozy arrived in the French territory on Friday and will open the Pacific Games on Saturday.

Speaking shortly after his arrival, Sarkozy said violence that erupted on the island of Mare earlier this month was inexcusable.

On August 6, four people were killed during protests over rising air fares.

"Conflicts, whether they are between communities, unions or of a political nature, must be resolved by dialogue, exchanges, if applicable by elections, but never by violence," Sarkozy said.

Under an agreement signed in 1998, New Caledonia is to hold a referendum between 2014 and 2018 on whether or not to become fully independent.

The deal, known as the Noumea Accord, followed a period of unrest in the 1980s sparked by tensions between the pro-independence camp and those in favour of remaining part of France. It also established more local autonomy.

Sarkozy said that both sides in the self-determination debate needed to work towards finding common ground.

"I remain convinced that, even among the pro-independence camp that I respect, there is an attachment for France and for our shared history," Sarkozy told parliamentarians.

He said this month's violence in Mare "goes against the grain of the immense progress that New Caledonia has made since the end of the 1980s".

The French leader further offered his support for the decision to use two flags -- with that of the indigenous Kanak people flying alongside the French tricolour -- as the islands' emblem.

The flag issue has been a constant battleground between the two sides and led the coalition government to collapse in February.

"There will be no reconciliation unless all identities are taken into account," Sarkozy said.

He added that 70 police officers would be sent to the islands to help tackle a rising tide of drug trafficking and alcohol-related crime.

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