France condemned for its fifth nuclear test

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The Independent Online
Sydney (AP) - Asian and Pacific nations joined environmental groups yesterday in condemning France for its fifth nuclear test in French Polynesia in four months.

Australia, New Zealand and Japan called for an immediate halt to testing and handed formal protests to French diplomats in their capitals. South Korea voiced "deep disappointment" while island states near France's nuclear test site accused it of arrogance. "France is its own worst enemy," said New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jim Bolger. "Its reputation in the Pacific is at an all-time low. When the tests are over, France will have to rebuild its credentials in the region."

The blast on Wednesday, beneath the remote Mururoa coral atoll 750 miles south-east of Tahiti, was weaker than previous blasts, scientists said.

French officials said the tests are needed to develop simulation technology to make future blasts unnecessary. France had planned eight tests but has reduced the number to six, to be completed by February.

"We are now close to the end of this final campaign," a foreign ministry spokesman said in Paris. "We have been and continue to be part of negotiations to bring about a treaty for a complete ban on nuclear tests."

Australia's acting Prime Minister, Kim Beazley, accused France of displaying "arrogant disregard" for a recent UN resolution calling for an immediate end to nuclear testing. The Japanese Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, described France's tests as "fruitless".

Pauline Green, leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, attacked President Jacques Chirac of France for the blast's timing. "He is trying to rub people's noses in the fact that in the season of good will he can defy international opinion and order fresh nuclear tests," she said. Britain has stayed clear of the debate. The Foreign Office said that the test program at Mururoa: "is a matter for the French."

nParis - France will replace its ageing fleet of Mirage IV nuclear bombers with newer Mirage 2000N fighter-bombers next year, a defence ministry spokesman said yesterday, Reuter reports. The Mirage-2000N has a slightly shorter range than the Mirage IV but mid-air refuelling could make up for the shortfall.

The defence newsletter TTU said recently that President Chirac had decided to develop a long-range cruise missile with a nuclear warhead that could be fired by the new Rafale fighter-bomber from up to 560 miles. Rafales are to come into service in the next century.