‘Bless this referendum’: Bougainville votes and prays for independence

Celebrations as voting begins to decide whether the region will break away from Papua New Guinea In the coastal town of Buka a solemn procession of people makes its way from the Catholic church to Bel Isi park, where worshippers kneel before a makeshift cross. There is one subject that dominates the prayers in Bougainville today. We are gathered here this morning in Bel Isi Park to ask you to bless the referendum. May it be peaceful and successful, says the priest. Besides those at the ceremony, the town is almost deserted. A handful of taxi boats float next to the closed market. The vessels have brought families dressed in their Sunday best for church from other parts of Buka …