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France Talks Tough After Greenpeace Ship Seized, Upsets Allies

July 11, 1995 GMT

PARIS (AP) _ France talked tough Monday following the seizure of a Greenpeace ship, promising to go ahead with A-bomb tests despite anti-nuclear protests and criticism from its allies.

French commandos using tear gas boarded the Rainbow Warrior II in the South Pacific early Sunday and subdued the crew, which later was released.

The incident took place in French Polynesia off the Mururoa atoll where nuclear tests are to resume in September after a three-year moratorium.

The timing of the boarding was especially sensitive because it came on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the first Rainbow Warrior by French agents in New Zealand. A photographer on board drowned as the ship sank.

In London, Bonn, Hong Kong, Toronto and other cities, protesters carried effigies of French President Jacques Chirac, chained themselves to the gates of French diplomatic compounds or held rallies to express their anger.

In Washington, dozens of Greenpeace members tried to wrap a 700-foot-long protest banner around the French ambassador’s residence. The Secret Service said it arrested 15 people. The ambassador wasn’t home.

The captain of the Greenpeace ship, allowed to sail out of French waters after the boarding, said Monday the group’s founder, David McTaggart, and two others went ashore in a speedboat and were roaming around Mururoa undetected.

McTaggart, Dutchman Henk Haazen and Australian Chris Robinson, left the yacht Vega as the French navy boarded the Rainbow Warrior II a few miles away, skipper David Enever told The Associated Press.

``They could hang out for a month or a month and a half,″ Enver said by satellite telephone. He said the French seized three of his ship’s inflatable boats, leaving only one and reducing its ability to protest.

French authorities in Tahiti said Monday they haven’t detected any sign of the three with the sophisticated monitoring equipment they are using. The military said it will block the entrance to the atoll’s lagoon with cables to thwart future attempts to enter it.

Greenpeace called the ship’s seizure ``an outrage against peaceful protest and world opinion.″

Prime Minister Alain Juppe reacted by saying France will take whatever measures are need to ensure its territorial waters are respected.

He said Chirac’s promise to hold eight nuclear tests beginning in September would be carried out ``because it is in the higher interest of the country.″

French leftists and environmentalists criticized the conservative government, though no major protests were held in the capital.

France came under increasing criticism. In a meeting with Chirac in Strasbourg on Tuesday, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl will raise the issue of the tests ``and their effect on public debate in Germany,″ said Kohl’s spokesman, Peter Hausmann, in Bonn. Germans widely opposes the tests.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the Clinton administration would have preferred that the dispute be resolved by peaceful, legal means.

``As we stated previously, we regret very much the French decision to resume nuclear testing. And we continue to urge all nuclear powers, including France, to join in a global moratorium as we work to complete the comprehensive test ban treaty at the earliest possible time,″ he said.

Australia, a major critic of the tests, signaled that it would seek Japan’s support in pressuring Paris. Deputy Prime Minister Kim Beazley called the seizure of the Rainbow Warrior ``a disproportionate response.″

New Zealand Prime Minister Mim Bolger declared the French action ``over the top.″

In the British capital about 100 people, including the daughter of the photographer killed in the July 10, 1985, sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, rallied outside the French Embassy.

In Auckland, Greenpeace’s New Zealand campaign manager said the Rainbow Warrior had planned to sail peacefully into the inner atoll.

But the French high commissioner in French Polynesia, Paul Ronciere, claimed the activists wanted to ``run the ship aground on an reef or on a beach,″ justifying the French action.