Unrepentant Chirac turns fire on Australia

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The Independent Online
MARY DEJEVSKY

Paris

President Jacques Chirac appeared on French television last night for the second time in a week to justify his decision to resume nuclear testing, and singled out Australia and New Zealand for special criticism, saying they were leading the anti-nuclear campaign to get France out of the South Pacific.

In an interview from the Elysee palace Mr Chirac claimed to have foreseen the international outcry and was unrepentant. "I did not over- or underestimate the response," he said, "because I knew I was dealing with a question of national security. You don't consult the polls or consider the foreign response in that case."

Mr Chirac said the violence in Tahiti after the test had been instigated by "a certain number of wreckers", encouraged by the independence movement, "which is in a small minority".

He attacked Australia and New Zealand, claiming French Polynesia enjoyed a standard of living higher than either country, and that they offered development aid "only because they want France out of the Pacific". The charge that Australia and New Zealand have orchestrated the opposition to French nuclear tests has angered Australian government ministers. Gordon Bilney, Minister for Pacific Island affairs, said the charge was "ridiculous".

It was Mr Chirac's third attempt to justify his decision in eight days. The latest decision was apparently taken in response to falling approval ratings, from 62 per cent after his election to 39 per cent, the sharpest fall of any new French president at the start of a term.

Mr Chirac did not repeat the suggestion he made on Tuesday, that he would consider cutting the series of "up to eight tests" short. Nor did he repeat the offer to place France's nuclear deterrent "at the service" of a European defence policy. Meeting in Santander yesterday, EU foreign ministers had already rejected that offer.

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