International protests against nuclear tests

July 19, 1995

By Norm Dixon

The worldwide uproar over the French government's decision to resume nuclear tests in the Pacific has been fuelled by the violent seizure of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior off Moruroa atoll on July 9. Protests were reported throughout the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and Japan, culminating in many actions on July 14, Bastille Day.

In a repeat of the huge June 29 mobilisation, thousands of anti-nuclear and pro-independence protesters turned out in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, on July 14 to greet the returning Rainbow Warrior. On board was independence movement leader Oscar Temaru. The ship was greeted by dozens of canoes in a Moahi traditional welcome.

The festive demonstration forced the relocation, and delay for several hours, of the scheduled French military parade. It was reported that the normally well-attended official Bastille Day ceremonies attracted very few people this year.

Speaking to Green Left Weekly from on board the Rainbow Warrior, Oscar Temaru said that the protests against nuclear tests were adding support for the Tahiti independence movement. "The two issues — the independence of our country and nuclear testing — cannot be dissociated. Only independence can stop French testing in the Pacific once and for all", he stressed.

The Greenpeace yacht Vega, which remains off Moruroa atoll, was harassed on July 13 by a low-flying French military helicopter, causing havoc with the yacht's sailing rig. Protesters on board say the intimidation will not deter them. The Vega is prepared to stay off the Moruroa test site indefinitely and is accompanied by the Danish vessel Bifrost.

Protests were held in Fiji and Vanuatu on July 14. Fiji Prime Minister Rabuka, whose government has received large amounts of military and economic aid from France since the two military coups Rabuka led in 1987, said he was unable to attend the protest due to a "prior engagement". The pro-French government of Vanuatu refused to issue permits for the protest there.

In New Zealand, plans are under way for a peace flotilla of more than 50 vessels to sail to Moruroa, leaving on August 14. Greenpeace says another 50 Australian vessels may join the protest. In Wellington, hundreds protested outside the Bastille Day reception at the French ambassador's residence. Guests were forced to step over a strategically placed pile of horse shit.

Protests were held in at least eight European capitals on July 14. In London, Greenpeace protesters scaled the wall of the French ambassador's residence and gatecrashed the garden party.

In Paris, security was heavy during the military parade to mark Bastille Day, ensuring that open dissent was stifled. Police detained 50 protesters, members of the Revolutionary Communist League, who waved banners and shouted slogans. Another 80 or so spectators, whose only crime was to wear anti-nuclear T-shirts, were also taken into custody.

On July 10, protests were held in Finland, France, Britain, Italy, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, the Ukraine, the United States and New Zealand to protest against the violent French attack on the Rainbow Warrior off Moruroa and to commemorate the terrorist bombing by French government agents of the original Rainbow Warrior 10 years earlier. Protests against nuclear testing have also taken place in Peru, Chile and Japan.

Reflecting a deep and growing anti-nuclear mood in Europe, the French government has been criticised by several governments and heads of state, including Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and foreign minister Susanna Agnelli, and Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson. The Austrian parliament passed a resolution calling on the French government to reverse its decision. The Danish parliament has passed a similar motion.

However, anti-nuclear movements in almost every country are demanding that their governments move beyond mere verbal opposition and take tougher action.

President Chirac was embarrassed on July 12 when he attempted to address the European Parliament. Members from Europe's Green, social democratic, socialist and Communist parties forced Chirac to resume his seat after they shouted down his speech.

Chile has called for a meeting of environment ministers from Latin America's Pacific rim countries to discuss ways to stop French testing.

The governments of Britain and the US have refused to condemn the French decision. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is resisting mounting pressure to oppose the French move.

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