Nations united in condemnation

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International outrage over France's decision to go ahead with its nuclear test last night was boiling over before the shock waves had dissipated.

New Zealand said it was recalling its ambassador to Paris for consultations, which in diplomatic terms constitutes a strong protest. The New Zealand statement said the Government was calling in France's ambassador to New Zealand, Jacques Le Blanc, to tell him that France's actions were unacceptable. It would also press ahead with a bid to stop further tests through the International Court of Justice.

Australian Foreign minister Gareth Evans condemned the test and said he would call in the French ambassador. "We do unreservedly condemn this test. This is not the action of a good international citizen. It is not the action of a good neighbour," Mr Evans told Australian radio.

Australia, New Zealand and other South Pacific nations have been among the most vocal critics of France's nuclear test programme in the region. But Germany - France's partner in European integration - has also been critical.

Politicians aboard a New Zealand navy ship off Mururoa Atoll condemned the test but said their show of opposition had been worthwhile. "Typical French arrogance, I'm afraid," government member of parliament Brian Neeson told Reuters from aboard the naval research ship Tui. New Zealand sent the ship to symbolise its opposition to nuclear testing. "This is the most costly atomic test in the history of atomic testing," he said.

France has tried to assuage public opinion by saying that it will commit itself to a ban on testing, and that these tests are neccessary before it does so. But this has cut little ice.

The US, which has also committed itself to a comprehensive nuclear test ban, was also condemnatory. The United States "regrets" the test, the White House said. "We continue to urge all of the nuclear powers, including France, to refrain from further nuclear tests and to join in a global moratorium," White House spokesman Michael McCurry said.

The United States asked France to hold off on the tests while President Bill Clinton was in Hawaii to commemorate the end of World War II, acccording to an unconfirmed report on CBS television.

"It's something that we regret," John Holum, director of the US government's Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, said. "The US policy has been that all countries should respect a global moratorium on testing as we work on a comprehensive test ban. The United States will continue its own moratorium. This won't have an impact on that."

The United States, Britain and Russia have conducted no tests since 1992. France also began a moratorium that year but President Jacques Chirac, reversed the policy, saying France needed to update its deterrent.