FRANCE STANDS FIRM ON ‘FRENCH’ POLYNESIA

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Jan. 3) – French High Commissioner Anne Boquet's New Year greetings to the estimated 253,000 people living in French Polynesia emphasized the "French" aspect of the French overseas territory.

"Be convinced that France is Polynesian as much as Polynesia is French," said Ms. Boquet, one of several officials to send out their tradition greetings for the New Year that are published by the local media.

However, daily French language newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti raised a figurative eyebrow Wednesday about the high commissioner's comment. "Polynesian France, that's perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, no?"

The newspaper interpreted the high commissioner's comment as her way of saying what French President Jacques Chirac said in 1995 when he announced the resumption of French underground nuclear testing in a remote part of the Tuamotu Archipelago. "Yes, Polynesia is France," the newspaper quoted Chirac as having said.

Most Anglo Saxons consider Polynesia an area of islands within the famous Polynesian Triangle formed by Hawaii to the north, Easter Island to the east and New Zealand to the south. The many island cultures within the triangle, such as French Polynesia, speak Polynesian languages.

However, for the French and the overwhelming majority of people living in Tahiti and Her Islands, Polynesia is French Polynesia.

The high commissioner told the public that throughout last year the French state "showed its determination and its sense of dialog. Respecting autonomy, it acted with firmness and impartiality. Attentive to the needs of the population," the state joined the French Polynesia government and the 49 communes in carrying out many projects.

However, Ms. Boquet made no direct reference to the difficult, and sometimes strained, relations between the state and French Polynesia Government President Oscar Temaru, whose government was toppled in a vote of no confidence on Dec. 13.

But she did allude to the tensions that existed following repeated comments by Temaru during overseas visits of Tahiti's need to prepare for independence from France.

"I know," Ms. Boquet said in her New Year greetings, "because many of you have told me, that you want a state present that incarnates stability and safety, a state bearing national solidarity. At the dawn of this year 2007, I solemnly tell you: the state is there for you," the high commissioner said.

She made only one mention of Gaston Tong Sang, who was elected on Dec. 26 as the new president of Tahiti's government. "I send him as well as his government my wishes for success. An intelligent and active partnership between French Polynesia, the communes and the state should make it possible to meet all challenges. Let's work together," the high commissioner said.

Tong Sang's New Year greetings mentioned his first meeting with the high commissioner right after his election in the French Polynesia and Assembly. He confirmed his plans to soon leave for Paris "to reaffirm all my confidence in the state".

At home, Tong Sang said he realized that one of the population's top priorities is to improve their daily lives. He reminded the people of his commitment to improving their purchasing power "rapidly". He said he was particularly thinking of those without jobs.

Tong Sang said the success of his government would depend on the mobilization of all forces in French Polynesia. "Each one, at his level, be it the most modest, has his role to play. I know I can count on you and on your love of the land (territory). All together, we will succeed."

In the New Year wishes of Béatrice Vernaudon, one of Tahiti's two deputies in the French National Assembly since 2002, she noted that the past two years have been highlighted by "turbulences" that can only be calmed by her "consulting" with the people once again.

She said she planned to get started with such consultation "in the months ahead". That could be considered as an indication she plans to run for re-election during the French legislative elections in June following the two rounds of French presidential elections between April and May.

However, there has been no indication from the political party she represented in the 2000 election that it plans to nominate her for re-election. That party is run by Tahiti's former government president, Gaston Flosse, who now represents French Polynesia in the French Senate.

Tahiti's second French National Assembly deputy, Papeete Mayor Michel Buillard, focused his New Year message on a 2006 that ended with a difficult economic situation. He said 2006 was an agitated year on the political as well as the social level.

But he called for believing in French Polynesia, in autonomy with France based on respect and confidence, real solidarity, economic development, social cohesion and work.

French Polynesia Assembly Speaker Philip Schyle delivered his New Year greetings by regretting "the too great importance that politicking has assumed in our community. The past year involved once again periods of tension that you do not deserve."

Referring to the various political leaders, Schyle continued, "The wars of the leaders did not cease feeding the media and rumors; unfortunately they contribute to loss of credibility for all elected officials, who sometimes forget their tasks and their duties."

Schyle said he hopes the New Year will restore a "balance between the political aspect and the economic, social and cultural life".

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