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Polynesia poll win shocks France

26 February 08 12:31 GMT

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party, the UMP, is to sever all links with the newly elected president of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse.

Mr Flosse unexpectedly returned to power at the weekend despite being routed in elections.

The move shocked mainland France, where the government was hoping for an end to years of political manoeuvring and instability in the Pacific territory.

It is the fourth time Mr Flosse has held the position in the last 25 years.

His party came third in national elections, winning just 17% of the vote.

At the age of 76 the veteran pro-France leader seemed to be losing his political magic, the BBC's Phil Mercer, in Sydney, says.

But a remarkable alliance - between independence campaigners and those who believe that Tahiti and the rest of the archipelago should remain French - has secured Mr Flosse another term as president.

Patrick Devedjian, UMP secretary general, described the pact as "against nature".

The deal denied victory to Gaston Tong Song, a moderate ethnic Chinese politician. He - like his former mentor Mr Flosse - is pro-France but has made too many enemies, our correspondent says.

Corruption charges

Mr Flosse ran French Polynesia for the best part of two decades before being ousted in 2004.

His election as president saw minor clashes outside the local assembly, which as part of the same political deal came under the control of his son-in-law.

BBC East Asia analyst Andre Vornic says Mr Flosse is closely associated with the former French president, Jacques Chirac, and a patriarchal form of politics that has fallen out of favour in Paris.

Facing various corruption charges over the years, he has always seen those dropped or amnestied. Critics accuse him of intimidating prosecutors.

The most serious allegations against him concern the disappearance of a journalist a decade ago, at the hands - it has been argued - of his private militia.

'Only viable option'

Law professor Yves-Louis Sage, from the University of French Polynesia, said that despite his unexpected win Mr Flosse's views are in tune with most voters.

"The vast majority of the Tahitian population wants to keep some links with France and autonomy is for them the only viable option," he said.

"As far as independence is concerned, maybe in 20 years or 30 years, but it's not an immediate concern for the population. They are more concerned about stability."

The office of the president has become a revolving door in recent years.

Leaders of French Polynesia have come and gone amid uncertainty and intrigue.

The elections were called a year early by France, under a new system designed to eradicate this volatility.

The French control law enforcement and the judicial system in French Polynesia, but autonomous local officials manage other areas, including education and finance.

There has been friction with Paris in the past over nuclear testing.

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