TAHITI LEADERS CLASH OVER PAPEETE MONUMENT

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, June 30) – Tahiti celebrated an already controversial Autonomy Day public holiday Thursday with an old fashion Tahitian political controversy surrounding the creation of an Autonomy Square in downtown Papeete.

The controversy began Wednesday night when two cabinet ministers from French Polynesia Oscar Temaru's government tried to have a very big and heavy rock monument removed from the "Pont de l'Est" rotary, or roundabout, on the north side of Papeete.

Since one of the ministers was James Salmon, head of the Public Works Ministry, he had no problem bringing in some heavy equipment to remove the covered monument awaiting Thursday morning's dedication ceremony.

But Papeete Mayor Michel Buillard showed up, claiming, "this emplacement is under the responsibility of my commune; it's been nearly 20 years that my employees have dealt with making this place attractive."

The confrontation quickly involved officials from the city, the Temaru government, the French state and the municipal police. Finally, since the area was already blocked off for Thursday's ceremony, the police were left in charge of providing overnight security for the monument.

Salmon announced the next day that the Temaru government would go to court to have the monument removed from the renamed Autonomy Square, claiming it was a traffic hazard that could cause a pedestrian's death. The monument is located in the middle of the rotary, where motor vehicles are constantly circling, making it difficult for pedestrians to approach and read the memorial.

With the controversy set aside for the moment, Flosse and several—but not all—pro-France, pro-autonomy parties gathered Thursday morning around Autonomy Square to dedicate the monument.

The June 29 holiday ended with Temaru's independence party celebrating a day of mourning at the war memorial in the Tahiti Commune of Faa'a that is dedicated to the ancient Tahitians who when trying to "defend their sovereignty", were killed in a battle with French colonial soldiers.

The yearly ceremony was held without Temaru present. He was on his way back from Monday's France-Oceania Summit hosted in Paris by French President Jacques Chirac and from a stopover in California to meet with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Pro-French and pro-independence political parties have been arguing for several years over what should be the official date for the people to celebrate Tahiti's special relationship with France with a public holiday.

For the pro-French autonomists led by former French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse, the correct date, which is the only date ever approved, is June 29. That was the day in 1880 when King Pomare V gave France the right of sovereignty.

But there have been four so-called "autonomy" statutes—1977, 1984, 1996 and 2004—approved by the French Parliament in Paris giving French Polynesia an increasing amount of internal autonomy, stopping far short of outright independence.

The "correct official date" is so controversial that not every political party in Tahiti that is pro-France, as opposed to pro-independence, agrees on the right date.

Although independence party leader Oscar Temaru has been in power for the past two years, his government has yet to change the public holiday from June 29 to Nov. 20. At one point last year he said he was even considering holding a referendum to let Tahiti's people chose the territorial public holiday date.

French Polynesia Vice President Jacqui Drollet has defended Nov. 20, saying that it has "a strong cultural connotation" rather than a "political connotation. The Temaru government has presented Nov. 20 as the day when the cluster of stars known as Pleiades appears in Tahiti's sky, marking the start of the "season of abundance" when fruit is harvested.

July 3, 2006

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