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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, June 17) – A three-day strike blockade of the only road entrance to the Port of Papeete was lifted early Saturday as an apparent gesture by the controversial strike leader not to create any more economic problems for the people of Tahiti and the outer islands.

"We don't want to impede the shipment of goods towards the archipelagoes," said Léonard Rere Puputauki, referring to the outer islands after giving orders for the strikers to remove the road blockade.

Puputauki is the leader of a group of government employees who man cargo ships used for inter-island emergencies. The group was formerly known as the GIP intervention group, which French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru dissolved in January.

Puputauki began the port road blockade on Wednesday, claiming that the Temaru government had not respected the terms of a January agreement spelling out who provided security services for the government ships and the port area where the men work.

Puputauki justified the blockade each of the three days by claiming that before Temaru returned to power last year he and his supporters staged similar blockades and occupations of government offices without the territorial government or the French state taking any action to remove them.

After ordering his men to lift the road blockade early Saturday, Puputauki explained his move by saying, "I received telephone calls from many islands informing me that the populations were beginning to lack butane gas, foodstuffs. In addition, refrigerated containers of meat have been blocked in customs for several days" in the Papeete Port Authority area, which includes shipping wharves and warehouses.

Several service stations on the island of Tahiti were already out of gasoline and diesel fuel and butane gas by late Friday. Several businesses located in Papeete's Fare Ute industrial area next to the Motu Uta port area were forced to close because employees and customers had no access.

Puputauki's decision to "lift the blockade at the request of the entire population" came as Temaru was flying to Paris with the intention of meeting French President Jacques Chirac and other government officials before the June 26 France-Oceania Summit.

A few hours before leaving Tahiti, Temaru issued a communiqué criticizing the French state for its "so called helplessness". Temaru plans to take advantage of his trip to Paris to make the French government aware of "the complaints" of French Polynesia and its business leaders, according to the communiqué.

emaru also plans to expose "the serious and inadmissible deficiencies of the state in French Polynesia, which creates considerable damage to (French) Polynesia and its businesses in a world context made even more difficult by the distance" between Paris and Papeete.

The communiqué added that during Temaru's meetings with French Polynesia business leaders Friday "he was questioned about the inertia of the state and the coincidence of these actions, which give a bad image of (French) Polynesia at the moment when it is preparing to go to France".

Referring to Puputauki, the Temaru communiqué stated, "the leader of those outside the law, in effect, had announced his intention to block the port and no measure of prevention was taken." The communiqué continued:

"The first day (of the strike blockade) on the Motu Uta bridge, those outside the law were few in number and had used simple barriers to prevent access to the port. Despite its police force of gendarmes and the squadron of security gendarmes permanently based in Faa'a (the commune adjacent to Papeete), the state gave no indication of its presence, encouraging others outside law to reinforce the blockade."

Temaru issued the communiqué after meeting late Friday afternoon with a delegation of business leaders who were threatening to close their stores and layoff their employees on Monday if the blockade and economic hardships continued. The businesses highlighted their plight earlier Friday by staging a procession of delivery trucks through the streets of downtown Papeete, stopping at the French High Commissioner's Office to meet with an official there, then going to the entrance of Temaru's presidential offices. They were then taken to meet with Temaru.

Earlier Friday, striking commercial fishermen reached a tentative agreement with the Temaru government on their administrative status and representation in key organizations. French Polynesia Vice President/Finance Minister Jacqui Drollet negotiated that settlement.

While the leader of the fishermen's union was optimistic about a final settlement, a commission created by the government will first have to examine the union's demands.

The striking fishermen had heightened the tension in Papeete Wednesday and Thursday when they dumped separate truckloads of rotten fish in front of the driveway to the French Polynesia Assembly and in front of the entrance to Temaru's presidential offices.

The fishermen also used their ships and boats to block cargo ships and shuttle boats from entering or leaving the Port of Papeete. But on Friday, the strikers led by Puputauki manned government cargo ships to replace the fishermen's blockading vessels in the harbor.

While the Temaru government met with the fishermen, only the French High Commissioner's Office in Papeete maintained a constant contact with Puputauki and his men manning their strike blockade.

However, the blockade was removed early Saturday morning without any agreement being reached between the strikers and the high commissioner's office or the Temaru government.

Puputauki said Saturday, "As of next week we will ask for an appointment with the Public Works Minister, James Salmon, since sanctions were taken against several demonstrators". Puputauki was referring to heavy hourly fines ordered in a Papeete court's two summary judgments Wednesday that ruled the strike illegal and authorized the use of a police force to remove the blockade.

June 19, 2006

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