Boat protesters call admiral's bluff



In penetrating the military exclusion zone around France's South Pacific nuclear test site yesterday, Greenpeace called the bluff of the commander of the French armed forces in the South Pacific, who had warned them such action would invite dire consequences.

Vice-Admiral Philippe Euvert said at Mururoa a few hours before the Greenpeace raid that if the organisation dropped divers into the lagoons at Mururoa and its neighbouring atoll, Fangataufa, to disrupt the tests, French soldiers might open fire. Two divers from the Rainbow Warrior II were arrested on the test platform in Mururoa lagoon yesterday, but no shots were fired.

Up to the last minute before the Rainbow Warrior defied French warnings and crossed into the 12-mile exclusion zone around Mururoa, Greenpeace protesters kept secret their tactics for disrupting the tests. Despite the admiral's threat, they penetrated the very heart of Mururoa.

About 12 hours before the Rainbow Warrior sailed into the exclusion zone, the naval commander said that Greenpeace members were "very determined" to stop the tests, but he did not want to use violence against them. The contingent of Greenpeace vessels is expected to be joined by four more over the weekend.

The Polynesian Liberation Front, a pro-independence, anti-nuclear party, has staged anti-French protests in Papeete over the past two days, leading to clashes with riot police. The police arrested two Polynesian protesters who invaded Papeete airport, trying to stop military aircraft taking off for Mururoa. Accompanied by Charlie Ching, leader of another independence party, Free Tahitians, about 30 Polynesians, including elderly women, shouted as they ran across the tarmac: "We're sick of you people. We're Tahitians, not French."