Court backs French tests



The Hague - The International Court of Justice yesterday rejected an attempt by New Zealand to stop further French nuclear tests in the South Pacific.

France hailed the ruling as a victory for common sense, but New Zealand, Australia and environmental groups vowed to continue to press Paris to halt testing at the Mururoa atoll.

The court ruled by 12 votes to three that it could not proceed with a request by Wellington to stop further underground tests by France in the area.

The French Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, welcomed the decision. "There is no loser, there is one winner - good sense," he said.

But New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, said France should take no comfort: "This was a decision on purely technical grounds ... It has no bearing on the merits of French nuclear testing."

On 5 September France held the first of eight nuclear tests planned at Mururoa by May 1996, triggering worldwide protests. A French defence specialist suggested France would conduct the second and most powerful blast of its controversial series in the next 12 days.

"Logically, normally, the second test will take place in eight or 10 or 12 days ... perhaps sooner," said Jacques Baumel, vice-chairman of the National Assembly's defence committee.

At a European Union summit in Majorca, President Jacques Chirac of France faced further protests over the blasts. The Swedish Prime Minister, Ingvar Carlsson, pledged to raise his objections with Mr Chirac personally. Mr Chirac, who was placed next to Mr Carlsson at lunch, cancelled a visit by the Swedish leader to Paris in September because of irritation over anti-test comments.

The environmental group Greenpeace made sure Mr Chirac would get its message by sending a protest boat to cruise in the bay in front of the EU leaders' hotel.