French Seize Anti-Nuclear Legislators’ Yacht
PAPEETE, Tahiti (AP) _ The French military seized a protest yacht carrying seven lawmakers from Australia, Japan and Europe on Saturday after it violated an off-limits zone around France’s Mururoa nuclear test site in the South Pacific.
Sailors on a navy vessel boarded the yacht La Ribaude about one mile inside the zone, then escorted it to Mururoa.
The yacht, chartered by Greenpeace, had been part of an anti-nuclear flotilla sailing around the atoll, 750 miles southeast of Tahiti.
Last week, the French impounded two Greenpeace ships that entered the 12-mile zone just before France detonated the first of eight planned underground nuclear tests.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. quoted a military official as saying the group had been seasick and exhausted after several days in heavy seas and had chosen to sail towards the atoll to escape the rough waters.
Greenpeace said the yacht had intended to sail to Mururoa to deliver an anti-nuclear protest letter to its military commander.
A New Zealand navy ship outside the exclusion zone said it had monitored a radio conversation between La Ribaude and a French patrol boat.
The New Zealand Press Association said the patrol boat seized La Ribaude after ordering the yacht to change course away from the exclusion zone.
The yacht replied that it was on a peaceful protest and said: ``We do not intend to stop unless you force us to stop.″
Another Greenpeace sailboat, Manutea from the United States, was also warned to stay clear of the exclusion zone by French navy ships.
Greenpeace said La Ribaude was carrying lawmakers Tom Wheelwright and Ian Cohen from Australia, Kuo Tanaka and Noboro Usami from Japan, Eva Goes from Sweden, Lino De Benetti and Sauro Turroni from Italy, and Jup Weber from Luxembourg.
Two members of the Austrian environmental group Global 2000 were also on board along with crew and seven journalists.
Meanwhile, in a rebuke to riots sparked by the French nuclear blast on Tuesday, about 5,000 pro-French demonstrators gathered Saturday on a downtown square to denounce the violence that injured at least 20 people and damaged dozens of buildings.
They chanted and clapped in unison under the tropical sun, standing among the palm trees in Papeete’s downtown park.
The protest was organized by the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of French Polynesia, a group that advises the French government.
Oscar Temaru, a leader of the pro-independence movement in French Polynesia, downplayed the significance of the rally, saying most of the demonstrators were civil servants and their families, in the pay of France.
A police inspector was fired Saturday on charges that he incited the rioters. Inspector Hiro Tefaarere, head of the Aita I Mua union, was arrested after emerging from hiding.
Tefaarere admitted fighting with police, but refused ``to take responsibility for the demolition of the airport and the pillaging of the city,″ the French newspaper Liberation quoted him as saying.
He said he tried to stop the violence at the airport, the newspaper said.
A court in Papeete sentenced 19 Tahitians to four-month prison terms Friday for pillaging during riots ignited by Tuesday’s nuclear test.
The rioting Wednesday and Thursday heavily damaged the airport, Tahiti’s Territorial Assembly and some 30 buildings and 110 shops, many of them looted. At least 20 people were injured.
The international section of the airport that connects French Polynesia to the rest of the world reopened Saturday. In Paris, Air France said it was resuming its normal three weekly flights. An additional flight, from Papeete to Paris, was planned Sunday for visitors wishing to leave.
Military officials in Papeete said Saturday two British Greenpeace protesters caught on Mururoa hours before Tuesday’s nuclear test were to be expelled.
Greenpeace said it expects the two to be sent to France, then Britain over the weekend.