NAME CHANGE TO MILLENNIUM ISLAND, KIRIBATI STILL TO BE CONFIRMED

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By Michael J. Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (August l2, 1997 - Agence France Presse)---Kiribati has followed up its controversial move to change the International Dateline by planning to change the name of a tiny uninhabited island to Millennium.

Radio Kiribati said Monday that the island, once known as Caroline Island, will, thanks to the change in the dateline, be the first place to see the new Millennium, although later the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Kaburoro Ruaia, told AFP the renaming was yet to be confirmed by cabinet.

Britian's Royal Observatory in London has protested the change. Its leading contender for the first new light is New Zealand's Chatham Islands.

The change in the millennium is turning into a major industry in the Pacific because of the tourism earnings to be made.

Hotels at islands likely to see the first light on the first day of the year 2000 are already full.

Ominously, the island honoring the next thousand years is uninhabited, barren, inaccessible and part of the remote Micronesian state of Kiribati.

Caroline is 14 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

If it goes ahead however it will be the latest shot in an increasingly bitter battle which also involves Tonga and New Zealand over who gets to see the century's first light.

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV has already warned that if Tonga, 13 hours ahead of (GMT), loses the battle he will proclaim sufficient daylight savings over 1999/2000 to assert the kingdom's right to first light.

Kiribati had the misfortune to straddle the Dateline and became the only state in the world to be in two days at any one time.

Two years ago Kiribati proclaimed it would henceforth be in one day at a time and as most people lived in the western side of the dateline the whole country went that way.

"It was not done with any regard at the time to the millennium but solely for administrative purposes alone," Ruaia said.

But by happy accident it meant Caroline -- 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) east of the capital Tarawa and 900 kilometers north of Papeete, French Polynesia -- would see any new day before Tonga and New Zealand.

Ruaia said before they changed the dateline they wrote to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, London, and US authorities to see if there was an international authority controlling the line. There was not, they told Kiribati, and so the country went ahead.

But when the implications of it dawned a year later, the Kiribati move provoked anger from Greenwich which sees itself as time's guardian.

Two London based companies have won Royal Observatory endorsement for their claim Hapeka Hill on Pitt Island in New Zealand's Chathams Group, 800 kilometers east of here, will get the first light of 2000. During the Southern Summer the Chathams are 13 hours 45 minutes ahead of GMT.

The companies, which are now selling rights to the hill, include Norris McWhirter, partner in the Millennium Adventure Company and co-founder of the Guinnes Book of Records.

The row seems to have overlooked Antarctica where, in summer, it never gets dark, so people at Scott Base and the South Pole have an indisputable advantage in seeing the new century's sun right after midnight.

For Caroline the whole business is more of the same.

Its first European recorder was W. R. Broughton of HMS Providence in 1795 and it has been variously known as Thornton, Hirst, Clark, Independence and Caroline island.

Its about 10 kilometers by 10 kilometers and is made up of 20 islets strung along a coral reef enclosing a shallow lagoon. There is no anchorage and no fresh water.

It is part of the Line Islands, best known for Kiritimati, or Christmas, which was home to British and US nuclear tests in the 1950s.

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