Pacific leader blasts Macron over nuclear tests snub

French Polynesia has never received an apology from Paris for almost 200 weapons tests

French Polynesian President Moetai Brotherson has condemned French President Emmanuel Macron for failing to offer even a “symbolic” apology for decades of nuclear weapons tests on the Pacific archipelago.

Speaking to Russia’s RTVI in an interview published on Tuesday, Brotherson said: “193 nuclear tests were carried out on our soil – tests that we did not ask for, and about which we were not even properly informed, because at that time the inhabitants of Polynesia did not know about the level of danger.”

“Today we are still dealing with dire consequences [and] there are people who get sick and die because of nuclear tests,” he continued. “Therefore, such a symbolic action as Emmanuel Macron’s apology was so important [and] we wondered why he did not do this.”

After detonating nearly two dozen atomic bombs in Algeria during the early 1960s, France shifted its nuclear testing to its overseas territories in the Pacific, namely the French Polynesian atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa. In total, 193 tests were carried out around the coral islands, causing a spike in thyroid cancer cases and exposing more than 100,000 inhabitants to high radiation levels, according to a 2021 review of government documents by Disclose, an investigative news site. 

Both atolls remain uninhabitable to this day, and the French government has paid compensation to only 63 civilians for radiation exposure. 

Macron visited French Polynesia in 2021 and declared that France owed residents of the archipelago a “debt” for the decades-long testing program. However, he did not offer an apology, and did not address the issue when he met with Brotherson in Paris earlier this summer. 

“We did not expect an apology from President Macron in person, as a private individual,” Brotherson told RTVI. However, the Polynesian leader said that he would have been satisfied with “an expression of the political position of France as a state in relation to what happened, expressed by its president.”

French Polynesia’s 121 islands and atolls are a part of France’s overseas territories, a group of 13 lands under direct or semi-direct French administration that make up the remnants of its former colonial empire. 

French Polynesia is semi-autonomous, and although Brotherson is a proponent of full independence, he told RTVI that he doesn’t predict any change to the status quo in the near future. 

“I believe that if we held an independence referendum tomorrow, the majority would vote against it,” he said. “The people are not ready yet. Today all teachers in Polynesia are paid by France. Part of the healthcare system is financed, of course, by Paris. The communes are partly financed by France. Therefore, such questions about the future are quite natural.”

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