French Commandos Board Rainbow Warrior Amid Report of Imminent Test
PAPEETE, Tahiti (AP) _ French navy commandos boarded Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior II today as the ship entered territorial waters around a French nuclear test site in the South Pacific, the environmental group said.
The boarding came hours before the time that Japanese and French media had said the first of at least seven nuclear blasts would come.
The Rainbow Warrior II crossed the 12-nautical-mile limit into the territorial waters of Mururoa Atoll at dawn, Greenpeace spokeswoman Stephanie Mills told Associated Press Television from aboard the ship.
The commandos boarded after activists refused a request from the French warship Prairial to turn back, she said.
Greenpeace, which is spearheading an international campaign to get France to halt the tests, has organized a ``peace flotilla″ near the testing site.
Earlier today, French military officials said Greenpeace activists had launched eight inflatable rafts into the waters off Mururoa. It was unclear what had happened to the boats.
On July 9, in the last confrontation between the Greenpeace flagship and the French military, the Rainbow Warrior II was rammed by a French navy tugboat as it neared Mururoa Atoll. The boat was then boarded by commandos who tear-gassed the crew and detained them briefly for questioning.
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 at 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.″
France has said it will conduct seven or eight nuclear explosions deep beneath Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls between September and May.
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:
_At Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, 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 620 miles west of the test site and across the international date line.
_In Paris today, police arrested about 30 anti-nuclear protesters who defied a ban on a planned demonstration and tried to form a human chain.
_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.
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.
U.S. Congressman Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa, a Democrat and ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, boarded the Rainbow Warrior II on Thursday in a show of protest.
Faleomavaega said France has ``no right to sit 15,000 miles away and explode nuclear bombs _ actually weapons of genocide _ in the midst of the Pacific.″
In Sydney, Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans conceded there was no way to stop the French tests, but vowed that Australia would keep lobbying against them.
``The campaign won’t be over until the last of the bombs have gone off,″ he said.