PARIS: The mostly Muslim Indian Ocean island of Mayotte has overwhelmingly voted to integrate fully with France, a move that will bring financial benefits to residents but also outlaw practices such as polygamy and early marriages.
More than 95 per cent of voters said "yes" to becoming the 101st department of France, instead of its present status of an "overseas community", the Interior Ministry announced.
The change means that the 216,300 or so inhabitants of Mayotte will progressively receive access to social benefits.
President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the "historic moment … a dream borne by several generations". However, he also noted the path to gaining the same rights as the mainland French was gradual, over 25 years, and that transforming Mayotte into a department would be a success only if it did not "upset the economic and social balances" of the island.
The change will force residents to raise the minimum age for women to marry from 15 to 18 and outlaw polygamy, the Interior Ministry said.
Becoming a French department will give residents more funds from Paris. Currently, they have the right to only two of eight social benefits, for the disabled and the aged.
Mayotte is 10,000 kilometres from Paris and 1500 kilometres from Reunion, another French overseas department, like Martinique and Guadeloupe. The French Government recently contended with more than a month of sometimes violent strikes in Guadeloupe and Martinique, triggered by lower salaries and higher prices than in mainland France.
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