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France Sends Reinforcements to Tahiti After Riots Over Nuclear Test

September 8, 1995 GMT

PAPEETE, Tahiti (AP) _ France ordered hundreds more police to this riot-torn island Thursday after anti-nuclear and pro-independence protesters set fires, broke windows and forcing the closing of the airport.

The rioting Wednesday night in Papeete, capital of French Polynesia, was the most violent of the demonstrations held worldwide to protest France’s resumption of nuclear testing in the South Pacific on Tuesday.

At least 13 people were injured in Papeete, including two policemen who were in serious condition, French officials said. At least 50 people were arrested and damage was estimated in the millions.

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Many buildings were firebombed, including Tahiti’s Territorial Assembly and part of the airport terminal. Shops were looted or burned. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio said one tourist hotel had to be evacuated overnight.

Firefighters doused the last of the blazes Thursday morning, although the airport remained closed. However, several hundred protesters converged on the airport again early Thursday and were repelled by riot police firing tear gas.

Witnesses said many protesters carried rocks, sticks or clubs. Australian radio said some were armed with small gasoline bombs fashioned from glass bottles and rags.

French paratroopers and Foreign Legionnaires from the Mururoa Atoll test site landed at the airport Wednesday night, freeing 80 riot police to patrol downtown with hundreds of other police.

On Thursday, the French military said another 300 police would be sent to Papeete.

Defense Minister Charles Millon, interviewed on Radio Monte Carlo, called for ``the respect of the law and public order.″

``I wish people didn’t confuse the right to demonstrate with rioting,″ he said.

Conservative President Jacques Chirac announced the resumption of testing shortly after he was elected in May, ending a three-year French moratorium on nuclear blasts that all the other declared nuclear powers except China have honored.

The government contends it must set off up to eight blasts to check its nuclear arsenal and develop computer simulation so future detonations won’t be necessary.

Tuesday’s underground blast at Mururoa Atoll, 750 miles southeast of Papeete, was the first. Marc Launois, an official with France’s Atomic Energy Commission, said the next would be in about three to five weeks.

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The furor over French nuclear testing also has given a dramatic boost to French Polynesia’s small independence movement.

``The Polynesian people have been pacifists and calm for many years, for 17 years, and we’ve had enough of it, said Nelson Ortas, the chief adviser to independence leader Oscar Temaru. ``If the other nations can’t help us, we’re going to have to go out on the street with our bare hands and try and do something.″

Foreign governments and media have denounced Chirac for ordering the tests, and there were signs France might be bending a bit under the force of the global backlash.

Defense Minister Charles Millon repeatedly spoke of ``these six tests″ on French television Wednesday evening. And the leftist newspaper Liberation said Thursday the tests might end by mid-November instead of May as planned.

Prime Minister Alain Juppe on Thursday invited Germany under the protection of the French nuclear umbrella ``to guarantee its security.″ German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said he found the idea ``interesting″ and would discuss it further with the French.

Protests continued elsewhere Thursday. In Berlin, about 3,000 demonstrators, most students, marched through the normally busy Kurfuerstendamm shopping street. They staged a sit-in in front of the French cultural center and hurled eggs and fruit at the building.