French free MPs held at Mururoa protest

The French authorities have released eight MPs arrested at the weekend on a Greenpeace yacht while staging a protest against the resumption of nuclear-weapons testing at Mururoa atoll.

After they arrived in Papeete, capital of French Polynesia, on a military flight from Mururoa, the MPs, from Japan, Australia, Italy, Sweden and Luxembourg, said the French military had treated them with respect after commandos raided the yacht, La Ribaude, but had intimidated the vessel's American skipper, Twilly Cannon, and his crew.

The MPs and their fellow passengers, two Austrian environmentalists and seven journalists, were suffering severe sea-sickness when the armed commandos boarded La Ribaude after it crossed the 12-mile exclusion zone around Mururoa on Saturday. Ian Cohen, an Australian MP, said the parliamentarians were taken under guard to the Mururoa hospital, where they were given food and beds for the night.

But Mr Cannon and his crew were forced to stand in the sun, deprived of sleep and interrogated until they were put on the flight to Papeete. "They were taunted with food as a means of extracting information from them," Mr Cohen said.

Mr Cannon said: "I was isolated from the rest of the crew. They kept waking me up while I was sleeping to answer questions about actions or individuals totally unrelated to the parliamentary mission."

The passengers of La Ribaude were the fourth group of Greenpeace protesters arrested over the past fortnight after breaching the Mururoa exclusion zone. The other activists managed to infiltrate the atoll in an attempt to disrupt France's resumption of nuclear tests, the first of which was on Wednesday.

Mr Cohen said the politicians were more concerned to carry a message on behalf of millions of people world-wide who wanted France to stop the tests. "Despite the traumas of the trip, we were able to make a very strong, unified statement, and gave the French military our point of view." Greenpeace maintains that it will continue its action at Mururoa against the next French nuclear test, whenever it is held.

n A union leader suspected of having helped to instigate riots that broke out last week after the nuclear test has been charged and jailed, AP reports.

Hiro Tefaarere, of the Atia I Mua union, was jailed on Sunday at Nutaania prison after a variety of charges were lodged, sources said, and five other union militants were arrested at Atia I Mua headquarters on unspecified charges.

Young militants from the union went to the airport and scuffled with police on the tarmac. Mr Tefaarere was seen there with a loudspeaker but claims he was trying to calm down militants.