Japan rounds on French 'betrayal' over nuclear tests

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The Japanese Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, yesterday accused the French government of betrayal and said Japan would sponsor a United Nations resolution condemning France's resumption of nuclear testing.

"China has already conducted a nuclear test, and now France is to resume testing," Mr Murayama said in Hiroshima, where he was campaigning on behalf of candidates for Sunday's elections to the upper house of the Diet. "These moves betray the trust of non-nuclear countries and I deeply regret them."

The statement followed a meeting on Tuesday when leaders of the three- party government agreed to a Diet motion calling for an end to nuclear trials. The same message will be passed to the French ambassador, who has been summoned to the Prime Minister's residence. In Japan, where a statement of "regret" is the closest politicians get to incandescent fury, these mild moves are being taken very seriously.

Since 13 June, when the French President Jacques Chirac announced the resumption of underground tests at Mururoa atoll in the south Pacific, Japanese opposition has grown. It began quietly at a private meeting between Mr Murayama and the President after the Group of Seven summit. President Chirac is considered a friend of Japan, and Mr Murayama's polite objection was politely rebuffed.

In May, grant aid to Peking was trimmed after a Chinese nuclear test, but Japan's low interest loans, the principal medium of its aid to China, remained unaffected. But in the last few days politicians have been falling over themselves to hop on the anti-nuclear bandwagon. The Finance Minister and leader of the coalition Sakigake Party, Masayoshi Takemura, went so far as to suggest a boycott of French goods, worth $5bn (pounds 3bn) last year.

The reasons for this upping of the pressure may be as much to do with internal Japanese affairs as an act of international conscience. Certainly, Mr Murayama's choice of Hiroshima for his announcement was no accident.

As the only people in the world to suffer direct atomic attack, Japanese share an almost universal revulsion for nuclear weapons; no subject is so guaranteed to evoke deep emotion, especially in the run up to the 50th anniversaries of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August.