Greenpeace protest boats dangled underwater microphones off France’s nuclear test island, trying to detect underground blasts that could begin as soon as today.
A “peace flotilla” of vessels organized by the environmental group were anchored Thursday just outside the 12-mile exclusion zone around Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia to put pressure on Paris to cancel the tests.
The French government plans to conduct up to eight underground nuclear tests at Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls between Sept. 1 and May. It has not said exactly when the tests would be conducted, but they have been widely rumored to be set for early September.
France says the tests are needed to test a new warhead and develop computer simulation that will make further tests unnecessary, and it promises to sign a global test ban treaty by May.
But the plans have met with outrage in France and in much of the world, particularly in French Polynesia.
In Paris, President Jacques Chirac ordered his ambassadors to “multiply France’s voice” around the world.
“Be transparent: Explain, explain again, explain without letup … it’s in the interests of France,” Chirac told French envoys attending an annual meeting Thursday at the Elysees Palace.
They have their work cut out for them. In Chile, the government on Thursday ordered its ambassador to France to leave Paris as soon as the first nuclear test is conducted.
Near the test site, the crew of a traditional Polynesian canoe complained that French helicopters and jet fighters buzzed them at low altitude as they sailed to join the anti-nuclear protest flotilla at Mururoa.
Tua Pittman, the skipper of the 72-foot, double-hulled canoe Te-Au-O-Tonga, reported that the low-level antics had been “extremely frightening” for his crew.
The vessel arrived off Mururoa Atoll on Wednesday morning to join the international peace flotilla, which is expected to swell to up to 30 vessels over the next few days. Eight boats had arrived by Thursday.
The French navy has 15 vessels and naval commandos protecting the exclusion zone, which Greenpeace is expected to try to breach in an attempt to prevent nuclear tests going ahead.
Greenpeace had planned to form a human chain of 500 people in the heart of Paris on Friday. But police on Thursday outlawed it as a “menace to public order.”
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