TEMARU EXHORTS PACIFIC YOUTH TO SEEK INDEPENDENCE

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PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, July 19) - French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru has ignited another controversy after telling a festival of young people from throughout the Pacific Monday that they should have included in their program a discussion of Tahiti's right for self-determination, otherwise known as independence.

Temaru's comments, which also included criticism of a Paris court's ruling that only French should be spoken at French Polynesia Assembly sessions, prompted Jacques Witkowski, the French High Commissioner Office's newly arrived secretary-general, to walk out of the festival, refusing to make any comments to the news media.

Later Monday, Temaru's comments brought a rebuke from French High Commissioner Anne Boquet, opposition political leaders and Assembly Speaker Philip Schyle. Ms. Boquet said Temaru's comments were but another example of his recent "unfriendly" gestures towards the French state.

Temaru's comments at the opening of the 1st Pacific Youth Festival in Tahiti occurred less than 24 hours after he returned to Papeéte from a trip to Europe. That trip that included attendance at the July 9 World Football/Soccer Cup Final won by Italy over France and a visit on the July 14 Bastille Day national holiday to the burial site in Sweden of the late Bengt and Marie-Thérèse Danielsson, long-time critics of France's 30-year nuclear testing program and colonial rule in French Polynesia.

Addressing the youth festival during its opening ceremony, Temaru said, "It seems to me that there's a very important theme that has been left out - the rights of the Maohi people," using the ancient term for the Tahitian people. "I would like to ask you to add this theme in one of your workshops," Temaru told an audience of nearly 1,400 people between the ages of 16-30 from some 20 delegations from throughout the South Pacific.

The festival, which continues through Saturday, has an overall theme of the region's youth building their own world, with nine workshops dealing with a variety of subjects ranging from "education and training for all," health and peace to "cultural diversity," "equality for all and "good governance."

Speaking in English, Temaru told the festival opening ceremony audience, which included local French and French Polynesia government officials, "Do you know that in our local Assembly it is prohibited to speak our language, the language of our land? Here (at the festival) we will speak our mother tongue. This is only one example of the colonial system that still exists in our land. We want to get rid of colonialism, racism and all these wrongs that exist everywhere in the world."

To illustrate his point, Temaru referred to the March French Council of State ruling that the Tahitian language could not be used instead of French during French Polynesia Assembly sessions. The council is France's administrative supreme court.

Although High Commissioner Boquet did not attend the festival opening ceremony, she seized on Temaru's comments about the assembly's official language and Tahiti's independence in her "open letter" communiqué to the French Polynesia president.

The high commissioner set the tone of her communiqué with an opening comment that the French state's desire to create a partnership with French Polynesia's government had been "thwarted once again by the attitude of President Oscar Temaru".

She noted that the March 29 Council of State ruling quoted from the 2004 French Parliament approved organic law governing Tahiti's internal autonomy relationship with France. That law upholds the Tahitian language as "a fundamental element of cultural identity" that "must be preserved" but "French is the official language of French Polynesia" and elected office holders are required to use the French language in official government meetings.

As for Temaru's comments about Tahiti's self-determination, Boquet referred to a comment made by French President Jacques Chirac following the June 26 France-Oceania Summit in Paris when Temaru raised the same subject. "No one disputes a people's right to self-determination. I do not have the feeling that today a majority of the (French) Polynesians wish for independence. I also do not think that, to be honest, it is in its (French Polynesia's) interest."

The high commissioner noted that during the past two years Temaru has frequently talked about Tahiti's independence "on the international scene", and again Monday at the Pacific Youth Festival. Such a debate should be first held in Tahiti, specifically in the French Polynesia Assembly, whose elected officials represent the overall population of this French overseas territory, she said.

Boquet pointedly accused Temaru of using "unfriendly" gestures locally against the French state. She referred specifically to the Temaru government's recent dedication of a memorial for the "presumed victims" of France's nuclear testing program, the government's decision to change the name of the downtown Papeéte main road of Avenue Bruat to Avenue Pouvanaa Oopa and Temaru's absence from the July 14 Bastille Day ceremonies in Papeete.

The high commissioner also noted France's financial contribution of nearly 10 million French Pacific francs (US$107,527/€83,800) towards the organization of the Pacific Youth Festival and the visa exemptions for the members of all Pacific Islands delegations.

July 20, 2006

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