French Commandos Board Rainbow Warrior Amid Report of Imminent Test
PAPEETE, Tahiti (AP) _ French navy commandos arrested two Greenpeace divers today who snuck up to the South Pacific atoll where France reportedly was to conduct an underground nuclear test as early as today.
Navy commandos stormed a Greenpeace protest ship as it entered the territorial waters of Mururoa Atoll, then went after the divers, who had sailed into a lagoon of the atoll on an inflatable raft.
Greenpeace had said the divers got under the offshore platform where the testing was to be conducted. France said they were arrested on another platform.
Greenpeace had sent the divers to the atoll to protest the testing, and said it had warned the French army of their presence.
Japanese and French media reported that the first of at least seven nuclear blasts would take place today, and the ship, the Rainbow Warrior II, crossed the 12-nautical-mile limit around Mururoa Atoll at dawn.
The black-suited commandos stormed the ship after activists refused a request from the French warship Prairial to turn back, Greenpeace spokeswoman Stephanie Mills told Associated Press Television from aboard the ship.
``They’ve just come alongside the ship. They’ve put this grappling hook on the lower deck. They’re knocking at the windows. ... They’ve pushed our cameraman over,″ she said before the phone line went dead.
The army said 15 commandos boarded the vessel and placed it under military control.
Commandos boarded the Rainbow Warrior in a similar fashion during a July protest.
Greenpeace, which is spearheading an international campaign to get France to halt the tests, has organized a ``peace flotilla″ near the testing site.
The Rainbow Warrior II is the successor to the Greenpeace protest ship bombed and sunk by French security agents in New Zealand’s Auckland Harbor in 1985.
Today’s confrontation came hours before France reportedly was to begin the tests. Koken Nosaka, a Japanese government spokesman, cited a ``reliable source″ who said the first test could come as early as 2 p.m. EDT, Japanese and French media reported.
The Cambridge, Mass.-based International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War also said it believed the test would come today. Program manager Michael Christ said the information was based on discussions with senior advisers to French President Jacques Chirac.
``It wasn’t stated explicitly, but that was the sense they got in their discussions,″ Christ said. ``The indication was that they were going to test today.″
But Marc Launois, of France’s Atomic Energy Commission, said on French radio that he doubted the tests would start Friday and ``it will not be this weekend.″
France has said it will conduct seven or eight nuclear explosions deep beneath Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls between September and May. It has refused to give specific dates.
Chirac contends the tests are needed to develop technology to simulate future tests by computer. He says he will sign a global test ban treaty after the tests, a promise that has done little to stop the outcry.
Protests against the tests occurred round the world:
_In Papeete, 750 miles from the test site, about 30 protesters occupied the military runway next to the airport for two hours Thursday, waving signs and banners before 60 riot police forced them off the tarmac. Papeete is across the international date line.
_In Paris today, police arrested about 300 anti-nuclear protesters who defied a ban on a planned demonstration and tried to form a human chain. Riot police pushed back another 300 people who lined the ornate 19th century Alexandre III Bridge.
_In Lausanne, Switzerland, about 20 protesters occupied two French diplomatic offices today to protest the tests. Demonstrators put a sign on the office window saying the facility was ``closed because of nuclear tests,″ police said.
_In Melbourne, Australia, up to 3,000 people marched through the streets Friday night, staging a mock ``die-in,″ lying on the ground while protesters burned red flares to symbolize death by radiation.
The protests foreshadowed bigger rallies expected Saturday, when about 100 legislators from Japan, Europe, Australia and New Zealand plan to join up to 15,000 activists in Papeete.