PAPEETE DEMONSTRATORS OCCUPY PRESIDENT’S PALACE

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Oct. 23) – The roadblocks partially cutting off access to Papeete for the past nine days were removed late Sunday night only to be replaced by blockades at the top four government institutions - the presidency, the French Polynesia Assembly, the Economic, Social and Cultural Council and the vice presidency.

The initial results were anti-Temaru government demonstrators occupying the grounds of each government facility, letting no one in or out. But there were no immediate indications that the demonstrators had taken over the buildings from the inside.

Outside the offices of French Polynesia Vice President Jacqui Drollet, demonstrators carried signs that read, "Oscar President/Traveler" and "Drollet Out".

The political agenda that was only partially hidden when the first Papeete roadblocks went up on Oct. 12 as part of a general strike and an anti-Temaru government protest has thus surfaced in plain site.

The end of the Papeete roadblocks was plainly welcomed by motorists Monday morning after nine days of bigger than normal morning, noon and late afternoon traffic jams.

The removal of the roadblocks occurred three days after negotiations with the Temaru government broke down last Thursday. The demonstrators claimed the government refused to meet with the three different groups involved, preferring instead to divide and conquer the groups by meeting with each individually.

The protest against the high cost of living in French Polynesia has been replaced by a demand that French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru immediately return from Fiji and a strong suggestion that the Assembly be dissolved and new elections held. The current Assembly, elected in 2004, is not due to face new elections until 2009.

Temaru, who has one-vote majority coalition in the Assembly, left Tahiti early Saturday for Fiji to attend the 37th Pacific Islands Forum meeting. French High Commissioner Anne Boquet, however, canceled her scheduled Monday departure for Fiji via Auckland on an Air New Zealand flight.

There was no immediate indication whether the high commissioner still planned on attending the forum in Fiji, joining the prime ministers from Australia and New Zealand. The three-day forum culminates in a leaders' retreat on Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported from Nadi Monday, "In a departure from earlier meetings, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Christopher Hill, will address the 16 heads of government in a special session Wednesday, which is expected to cover regional security and development issues."

There was no immediate word from Temaru in Fiji about the development in Papeete. But his chief of staff, Patrick Leboucher, told Tahiti's news media as soon as he verified the blocking of the presidency, that the demonstrators' latest move was an "extremity" that is "quasi-insurrectional", a "mini-revolution" that "exceeds the limit".

Leboucher said he had sent a facsimile message to the high commissioner asking what her reactions were. The high commissioner, meeting with her staff early Monday, is the only one under the statute governing Tahiti's relations with France who has the authority to send in gendarmes to remove a blockade or provide access to government facilities.

Ronald Terorotua, leader of the union that launched the Oct. 12 general strike, called for the dissolution of the 57-seat Assembly during a weekend radio interview.

Terorotua has been joined in the anti-Temaru government demonstration from the beginning by the owner of several public transportation buses and the leader of the employees of the former government intervention group known as the GIP.

While Terorotua was the recognized leader of the Papeete roadblocks, it now appears that Léonard Puputauki, former head of the GIP [Groupement d'Intervention de La Polynesia], has become the leader of blockades of the government facilities.

Of the three groups involved in the demonstrations since the beginning, only Puputauki appears to have legitimate labor union grievances to resolve with the Temaru government. The former GIP employees were on strike before Terorotua launched his general strike and remain on strike.

Terorotua has protested what he claims is the high cost of living in Tahiti and has called for lower business taxes and no new government taxes in next year's budget. Those arguments are all political in nature rather than bread-and-butter labor union demands.

Only Puputauki has presented a list of more traditional union demands - 20 pages long - calling for, among other things, payment of back wages to the former GIP employees.

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