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Protests pour in after latest French nuclear test


October 2, 1995
Web posted at: 6:00 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT)

From International Corespondents Peter Humi, John Lewis, and John Raedler

PAPEETE, Tahiti, TOKYO, PARIS (CNN) -- At half past midnight Paris time on Monday, France conducted a nuclear test on Fangataufa Atoll. The blast triggered a wave of protest throughout the Pacific region, but France remained diplomatically tight-lipped.


One in a series of tests "to guarantee safety and reliability of France's nuclear arsenal," the Fangataufa explosion was also one of the biggest. Anti-nuclear protesters and Pacific Rim leaders spoke out from Australia to Japan.

"We're not against France and the French people, but we are against (the French decision to continue testing)," said Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating. "We want to see no more tests. We want the French to clean up their act. We want them to apologize, and we want them to join the rest of us in clearing the world of these dreadful weapons."

In Hiroshima, Japan, where more than 140,000 people were killed by a U.S. atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, the city's mayor issued a strong protest. "To strengthen one's nuclear arsenal at a time when we are searching for a world without nuclear weapons is an act betraying the international community," said Mayor Takashi Hiraoka.


Japan's finance minister, Masayoshi Takemura, who came under fire from the French last month when he took part in an anti-nuclear protest march in Tahiti, was even more blunt. He called the French government "arrogant" and "out of touch" with the rest of the world, adding, "This is not the era of Napoleon or de Gaulle."

Ambassador lectured


Takemura suggested Tokyo should recall its ambassador to Paris to underscore its displeasure. That won't happen, according to Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, but Kono did call France's ambassador to Japan on the carpet.

Kono said he told the French diplomat that he "strongly regretted" that France apparently did not understand "Japan's consistent position" on the matter of nuclear testing. Earlier in the day, Kono said Japan would study ways to apply pressure on France, including taking its protest to the United Nations.

Finance minister

Meanwhile, relative calm prevailed on the streets of the Tahitian capital, Papeete. Rioting had erupted after the first test, but law enforcement officials were prepared this time. Truckloads of riot police patrolled the streets, keeping close guard on strategic sites such as the airport and French military installations.

For now, anger took verbal forms, although some people noted that rioting didn't start until the day after last month's test.

`Highly insulting'

Tahitian Independence Movement leader Nelson Ortas described the latest test as "again the absolute affirmation of the contempt Mr. Chirac has for our people and those of the region. It's just very sad for us."

Greenpeace Coordinator Lynette Thorstensen said the explosion was "highly insulting for all the peace-loving people of the Pacific." She noted that the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima "was 13 kilotons and this today was 110."

French authorities kept mum, except for brief comment from the Foreign Ministry in Paris. "Every test has its own value," said spokesman Jacques Rummelhardt. "You know we are not making tests for the pleasure, for the sake of it, we are making the tests in order to complete campaigns suspended in 1992."

And despite all the flack, the government seems determined to carry on with further tests. It insists that the tests are safe. Scientist Pierre Yaegle said French leaders are missing the point.

"The main danger of this decision is not ecological danger. It is the danger of nuclear proliferation in France," argued Yaegle, who petitioned the government to stop the tests.

Chirac said France will sign a comprehensive test ban treaty next summer. His decision to continue testing is, in his words, "irrevocable."

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