Wed, Oct 25, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Protesters evicted in French Polynesia

PANIC IN PAPEETE Hardliners hurled stones and other projectiles at security forces as they were teargased out of government buildings they had occupied since Sunday


Security forces teargased stone-throwing mobs in the French Polynesian capital on Monday as they forced out hundreds of demonstrators who occupied key government buildings overnight.

The forces moved in after protesters demanding lower living costs seized the presidential palace, assembly building and economic and social headquarters in a dramatic move late on Sunday.

Nobody was injured in the clashes but the confrontation sparked panic in Papeete, capital of the French Pacific territory, as the noise of exploding canisters and stench of teargas filled the streets.

The chaotic scenes followed a two-week blockade of main roads around the capital by the "Collective" -- a group of mainly hardliners from the pro-independence Aia Api party, members of a disbanded security force and disgruntled unionists.

Protesters hurled stones and other projectiles at security forces as they were forced out of the government buildings.

French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru, who huddled with key advisers accompanying him at the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji as the scenes unfolded, hailed the security forces' action.

"It's the state that's responsible for order in Polynesia, and it was the state that ended the disorder," he said.

The protesters had demanded Temaru's immediate return from Fiji for face-to-face talks over measures to rein in the high cost of living and gasoline prices.

Members of the Intervention Group of Polynesia (GIP) were also demanding compensation after the force was disbanded in January.

Police initially held off intervening in the occupation, which started when protesters drove lorries into the palace grounds late on Sunday. A spokesman for the French Polynesian government called the action an "insurrection."

But on Monday morning, Vice President Jacqui Drollet signed a letter for High Commissioner Anne Boquet to ask her permission to send in security forces.

The French state, which is responsible for security in French Polynesia, has tolerated the protesters' illegal road blocks despite their damaging effect on Papeete.

Temaru, who dissolved the 1,000-strong GIP in January, has previously described the striking workers as "terrorists" who are trying destabilize his government.

The GIP was set up by former president Gaston Flosse with a mandate to provide assistance to populations stricken by natural disasters in the region.

France annexed the South Pacific archipelago of 263,000 people in the late 19th century. A groundswell of support for independence was fueled by France's controversial nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll in the mid-1990s.

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