French Island of Mayotte Votes to Change in Status

PARIS (AP) - The mostly Muslim Indian Ocean island of Mayotte on
Sunday overwhelmingly voted to integrate fully with France, a move
that will bring financial benefits to residents but also outlaw practices like polygamy and early marriages.

More than 95 percent of voters said "yes" to becoming the 101st department of France, instead of the current status of an "overseas community," the Interior Ministry announced.

The change means that the approximately 216,300 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 noted the path to gaining the same rights as mainland French is gradual, over up to 25 years.

The change will force residents to adjust cultural customs, for instance raising the minimum age for women to marry from 15 to 18 and outlawing polygamy, according to the Interior Ministry.

The initiative, in the works for years, is not without controversy. Both the United Nations and the African Union consider the island to be part of the Comoros archipelago even though the its population voted to remain linked to France in a 1974 referendum on self-determination. The other three islands of Comoros voted for independence and in 1975 Comoros became a U.N. member state.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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