France caused fresh outrage in the South Pacific yesterday after it carried out its second underground nuclear test. It dashed any remaining hopes that the protests which swept the world after the test last month would change the mind of the government in Paris.
The test happened within hours of French commandos seizing and taking into custody the Manutea, a Greenpeace yacht. It was the last of four vessels Greenpeace has lost to French raids around Mururoa atoll, where the first in the series of tests took place, and Fangataufa since early last month.
Unlike two of the earlier seizures, Rainbow Warrior II and Vega, the Manutea was outside the 12-mile (20km) military exclusion zone when the commandos boarded it. French military authorities said the arrest was justified because an inflatable craft had been launched into the prohibited zone from the Manutea. Lynette Thorstensen, the Greenpeace campaign director in Tahiti, denied this, and claimed the craft came from another vessel among the international peace flotilla.
Oscar Temaru, leader of Tavini Huiraatira, the Polynesian Liberation Front, the main independence party in French Polynesia, said he had hoped the international outrage and the riots in Tahiti which followed the 5 September test might have persuaded President Jacques Chirac to abandon the rest of what is scheduled to be seven or eight tests up to May.
"My feeling today is more one of pain than anger," he said. "We had confidence in the human being of Jacques Chirac, but for the second time he has allowed his animal instinct to take over. Mururoa and Fangataufa are part of Polynesian heritage. A Polynesian has three symbols in life: land, sea and air. The French have destroyed all three. It's like losing a family member again."
The French military surprised everyone by taking the unusual step of conducting the latest test on a Sunday, strictly observed as a day of worship among Polynesians, more than 80 per cent of whom are Christians. Tahiti was deserted, with most Polynesians attending church or at home. It may have been a tactical move to pre-empt a repetition of last month's violence, when 3,000 young Polynesians burned and looted the airport and shops in Papeete, the capital.
More than 1,000 gendarmes and riot police patrolled Papeete last night. They were backed by almost five times the number of police who struggled to control the September riots. Tension was high in Papeete, but anti- nuclear and pro-independence leaders called for restraint.
Australia and New Zealand called in the French ambassadors yesterday to protest. Jim Bolger, New Zealand's Prime Minister, kept the ambassador waiting 15 minutes for a meeting lasting 10 minutes.
Mr Bolger said later: "It's just so much waste because there's no French person alive, from the French President down, who could suggest in any rational way which time and in what circumstances they would use a nuclear weapon and against whom."
Paul Keating, Prime Minister of Australia, said it would be "unceasing and unrelenting" in efforts to press France to abandon the tests.
After a meeting in Canberra with Bob McMullan, the acting Foreign Minister, Dominique Girard, the French ambassador, said he had refused to apologise for the tests. "We're doing what we're doing in a most reasonable way with the utmost precaution. So we have nothing to apologise about."