Opposition mounts to French nuclear tests


By Pip Hinman

On June 29, more than 15,000 people took part in a "flotilla for peace" demonstration in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, in protest at the French government's decision to resume testing at Moruroa.

According to ABC Radio reports, people started their anti-nuclear march at 6am from east and west of the capital to converge in front of the High Commission building before proceeding to meet Greenpeace's flagship, Rainbow Warrior, which has been prevented from entering the main port.

Two hundred riot police were flown in from New Caledonia to join with local security forces. According to Greenpeace's Stephanie Mills on board the Rainbow Warrior, Chirac's attempt to suppress public opinion by intimidation "has clearly failed". There have also been reports of anti-nuclear protests on some of the smaller Pacific islands.

The Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (PCRC), based in Fiji, has called on members of the South Pacific Forum to suspend the French government's "dialogue partner" status.

PCRC spokesperson Lopeti Senituli also called on all Pacific Island governments to boycott the South Pacific Games, scheduled for Papeete in August. The Maohi (indigenous) people of French Polynesia have supported the boycott call, as has the mayor of Faa'a.

Fiji-based NGOs — including the Fiji YWCA, University of the South Pacific Students Association, the Pacific concerns Resource Centre/Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Movement, Fiji Anti-Nuclear Group, Pacific Conference of Churches, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Greenpeace/Pacific — hope to get 100,000 people to sign their petition urging the French government to reconsider its decision.

The petition has also been endorsed by the Fiji Trade Union Congress, the National Council of Women of Fiji and the Fiji Women's Rights Movement. It will be presented to the French ambassador in Suva following a protest march on July 10 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.

The Nauru parliament has called on the government to break off diplomatic relations with France while nuclear tests are being conducted. The strongly worded resolution said that relations would be reconsidered after France had signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Western Samoa's prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Tofilau Eti Alesana, said the resumption of testing "can only be interpreted as insensitivity to the deep concerns of the South Pacific nations".

The governments of Kiribati and the Cook Islands said that the tests would jeopardise a complete nuclear ban.

A statement by 17 European Socialist parties demanded the French government change its mind and called on "all those states in possession of nuclear arms to confirm their renunciation of testing ... [and] all governments to cooperate ... to reach an early agreement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty".

At a Europe-wide heads of state meeting in Cannes on June 27, the Austrian, Finnish and Swedish PMs spoke out against the tests. However, the British and German leaders refrained for making any public criticism.

From New Zealand, Bruce Cronin, a research officer with the Auckland University Student Association, told Green Left Weekly that the anti-nuclear movement, currently campaigning to reduce the defence budget, is debating whether to call on the government to send a frigate to Moruroa. On June 16, 60 Massey University students, peace activists and some members of the Alliance protested outside the France-New Zealand rugby league match. Black armbands handed out to spectators entering the grounds proved popular, he said.

On June 23, around 70 delegates from an NGO conference in Wellington, led by Tahitian leader Gabriel Tehiarahi, marched to the French embassy and dumped a load of household waste in the office lobby. And on June 26, 1000 people marched on the embassy, pelting the building with eggs. Four people were arrested. Two activists delivered a letter to the ambassador.