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PAPE‘ETE, French Polynesia (June 12, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---An appeal court in Paris last week confirmed earlier sentences imposed on anti-nuclear rioters in 1995, RFO radio reports.

Among top personalities in the appeal case was French Polynesia's Territorial Assembly Vice President Hiro Tefaarere, for whom the court confirmed a three-year prison term (including a 30-month suspended term) handed down to him by the Court of Appeal in Pape‘ete during June of last year.

Tefaarere's rights to contest elections and to vote were also suspended for one year.

Reacting to the ruling, he said he "had not exhausted all his appeal options, especially in European courts."

He claimed that "all the responsibility related to the riots of 1995 had not been established" and vowed to "continue his political fight."

The appeal court also rejected the appeals of two former members of the A Tia I Mua ("standing and forward" in Tahitian) union, Ronald Terorotua and Henri Temaititahio, involved in the 1995 riots.

Terorotua was sentenced to two years (including an 18-month suspended term), while Temaititahio was given a 12-month term (including a six-month suspended term).

The re-trial case was related directly to the violent events that occurred on September 6, 1995, amidst a strong protest movement against the resumption of French nuclear testing on Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls a few months before.

At an initial trial in September 1998, Hiro Tefarere, Ronald Tererotua (both leaders in the Atia I Mua), Albert Tematahotoa, Karl Barff, and Henri Titaio, were found guilty of leading the riots, which caused extensive damage to French Polynesia's international Faa‘a airport.

Police premises, lounges, postal facilities and about 200 passenger vehicles at the airport's car park were destroyed, the court heard.

An aircraft belonging to AOM French Airlines, which was parked on the tarmac at the time, also suffered extensive damage.

At an earlier hearing on the same case during May of last year, Appeal Court President and Judge Brieuc Mordant de Moissac gave a presentation of what he thought was the way things happened during that day, in an attempt to place the events in a "political and social context."

He said anti-nuclear protesters from the pro-independence Tavini Party were on the airport tarmac on that day, and were later joined by another contingent from A Tia I Mua, the court heard.

A Tia I Mua had just launched a general strike.

Former Labour minister in the local government, Raymond Von Bastolaer, testified in court that negotiations had taken place the day before the union decided to call the strike.

A Tia I Mua secretary general Bruno Santras told the court it was the union's intention to go to the airport, but the march was supposed to remain calm.

"Events got out of hand," he said, denying any consultation with the pro-independence Tavini party.

"A Tia I Mua was the ideal scapegoat for everything that took place," he added.

When stones started being thrown at the AOM aircraft, police asked for reinforcements and around 9:00 a.m., started shooting tear gas at protesters on the tarmac.

Before 10:00 a.m., another group joined the protesters, who had by then moved to the airport terminal.

Tension was to remain high for most of the day.

In the evening of that same day, business houses, residences and public offices were looted and burned in downtown Pape‘ete.

The official toll was twenty injured, including nine protesters, seven policemen and four others.

The total damage was estimated at 3.1 billion French Pacific Francs (about US$ 24 million).

The French government footed the bill, "not as an insurer, but as a responsible body to the victims," the court heard.

"This exceptional trial is about violence over nuclear testing and a radical protest against the social, political and cultural system which resulted from a financial cornucopia which had been falling upon French Polynesia for thirty years." the daily newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti wrote at the time in an editorial.

Pro-independence Tavini party leader Oscar Temaru also testified in court and said that nuclear tests were "a humiliation" for French Polynesians.

"Many public figures of this country have tried to get (French President) Jacques Chirac to understand that we didn't want this resumption of the nuclear tests," he said.

"There was already a lot of people at the airport when the union members arrived. No, it is not their arrival that triggered the riots." He said "young, inexperienced" French riot police shooting tear gas was probably what triggered the riots.

As a result of the 1998 ruling, Tefarere and Tererotua were both deprived of their civic rights (including the right to vote or to contest elections) respectively for five and three years.

"We're trying to get their sentences reduced, especially those suppressions of civic rights. This is not acceptable as a sentence against what was a union action," their lawyer Maître Roux told RFO.

Metropolitan French farmers leader José Bové was also in Pape‘ete during the riots. His movement became a strong opponent to the nuclear issue in the early seventies.

"We came to Pape‘ete to commemorate the anniversary of Hiroshima on August 6. We wanted to protest against the arbitrary decision of the French state to resume nuclear testing. . . .We came to help the Polynesians," he told the Court.

Tefaarere was jailed for 92 days after his arrest on September 9, 1995, and was then released.

Since May 1996, he has been a member of the Territorial Assembly, elected under a Tavini Huiraatira (pro-independence) platform.

"When the protesters arrived (at the airport), we heard tear gas being shot. At this stage, it was impossible to stop the movement. It got out of hand and this is everyone's fault," Tefaarere told the court president.

Hearings resume this week.

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