A tenuous calm settled over Tahiti on Friday as activists and officials argued over whom to blame for two days of violent rioting triggered by France’s resumption of nuclear tests.
A Polynesian leader in Papeete warned that anti-French anger could explode again in Tahiti if Paris sets off another nuclear blast.
“They will never have enough French gendarmes to make sure people are quiet,” said Gabriel Tetiarahi, head of the Hiti Tau coalition of indigenous Polynesian groups.
Most downtown Papeete stores undamaged by rioting reopened Friday. Some remained boarded up, fearing more violence on the shaken island. Damage done to the airport by protesters forced flight cancellations.
Hundreds of people gathered at the airport early today in hopes of getting on an Air New Zealand flight - the first flight to leave Tahiti since the rioting began.
Daytime flights were scheduled to resume today, but there was no indication when air-traffic control equipment would be restored so nighttime flights could begin.
People strolled along flower-lined sidewalks in the sunny weather to gawk at a burned-out car and gutted, looted shops. Motorists drove through streets newly cleared of rocks and shattered glass.
Art gallery owner Fred Fredlett, standing sadly outside his gutted shop, said the riot cost him “12 years’ non-stop work.”
Schools remained closed, though banks and most other businesses reopened under police protection. At the city tourist office, visitors browsed for brochures.
It was a sharp contrast from Thursday, when riot police fired stun grenades and tear gas at hundreds of protesters outside the airport during a second day of violence.
Rioting broke out Wednesday, the day after France defied international opinion and detonated a nuclear device deep under Mururoa Atoll, 750 miles southeast of Papeete.
It was the most violent reaction among worldwide protests by governments and activists opposed to the first of up to eight tests that French President Jacques Chirac plans by the end of May.
Rioters firebombed Tahiti’s Territorial Assembly and other downtown buildings and burned part of the airport to punish France for the nuclear test.
At least 17 people were injured, and damage was estimated in the millions of dollars. Seventy-five people were arrested, and at least two Greenpeace activists remained jailed Friday night.
Seventeen buildings were badly damaged, including a tourist hotel that had to be evacuated overnight. Up to 40 buildings sustained some damage or looting.
Heeding radio pleas by proindependence leader Oscar Temaru, protesters finally dismantled the last of their barricades on Thursday night.
Gaston Flosse, the territorial president of French Polynesia, vowed to sue the town of Faa, near the airport, the town’s pro-independence radio station and union leader Hiro Tefaarere, who called a general strike.
Flosse blamed the riots on the independence movement, foreign journalists and Greenpeace, which he said had reignited the independence movement.
“By your belligerent and mediaconscious gesticulations, you gave the (independence) movement an audience it had never had before,” he wrote in a letter to Greenpeace.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Penelope Komites countered that “if anyone should be held responsible for the riots in Papeete, it’s President Jacques Chirac.”
Chirac announced the nuclear test in June, saying it was needed to develop computer simulation and render future blasts unnecessary. Nuclear opponents fear the testing could encourage others to violate an international moratorium.
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