FRENCH POLYNESIA PARTY SEEKS TONG SANG RESIGNATION

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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Aug. 30) – French Polynesia's Tahoeraa Huiraatira party has on Thursday [asked] the French Pacific country's President, Gaston Tong Sang, to resign from the pro-French party, ahead of a looming motion of no confidence scheduled to be put to the vote at the weekend, local media report.

In a release, the Tahoeraa Huiraatira party accuses Tong Sang of wanting to set up his own party and says if this was the case, then Tong Sang cannot remain a member of former President Gaston Flosse's party.

Since July, Flosse has been increasingly critical of Tong Sang, who came to power in December 2006 with the support of Tahoeraa Huiraatira, a party of which he is also a founding member.

Flosse, in an apparent bid to come back to power, has consistently claimed that Tong Sang had given in too much to demands from minor parties and not accorded enough portfolios to Tahoeraa.

It also emerged last month that in the mean time, Flosse had held "secret talks" with long-time political opponent, pro-independence leader and former President Oscar Temaru, with the aim of setting up a unity platform and removing Tong Sang from office.

During a brief extraordinary meeting of the local legislative assembly, on Wednesday, a motion of no confidence was filed by Temaru's opposition platform, the Union for Democracy (UPLD).

UPLD had filed a first motion at the weekend, but Tong Sang had contested the move, saying the motion should be filed during a parliamentary sitting.

French Polynesia's latest political turmoil comes as French assistant minister for overseas territories, Secretary of State Christian Estrosi, is expected in Tahiti on Friday for an official visit.

The initial purpose of the trip was to further consult with French Polynesia's political leaders in order to come up with a new form of political system that, it was hoped, could avoid further instability in the French Pacific country.

The prospect of early elections, before the end of this year, has already seemed to emerge from initial talks held in Paris last week.

For the past three years, governments in French Polynesia has persistently fallen to motions of no confidence, shifting from pro-independence to pro-French parties, which both only enjoy very thin majorities in the 57-member House.

Although Estrosi's visit this week does not seem to have been questioned by French Polynesia's recent political developments, the French government member's talks with local leaders could be affected so as "not to interfere" in local politics, French media report.

The next sitting of French Polynesia's legislative assembly is scheduled to take place on Saturday (Friday local time).

Meanwhile, Flosse has assured that he would not press his party MPs to either vote for or against the ouster motion, and that he himself did not "bid for any position".

Temaru, on his part, was more outspoken when he told local media that he was certain that the motion of no confidence against Tong Sang would pass.

Tong Sang, during a press conference on Wednesday, said that convening the local Parliament to put a motion of no confidence to the vote precisely when Estrosi was there on an official visit in a bid to tackle instability was "to lack the most elementary respect and courtesy" to the French government.

A cross-section of Tong Sang's supporters, including members of smaller parties that are part of his current coalition, is also planning to hold a peaceful march at the weekend in support of the embattled President.

Last month, Flosse withdrew four of his party members from Tong Sang's cabinet, then confirmed last week that Tahoeraa would no longer be part of French Polynesia's parliament majority, effectively leaving Tong sang with the backing of only 11 of the 57 MPs in the House.

Temaru was himself ousted in a motion of no confidence on December 13, 2006.

Tong Sang replaced him.

The its motion, the UPLD group is alleging that Tong Sang's government is "no longer representative of the popular suffrage" and therefore "illegitimate".

Speaking to French media late last week, Estrosi also confirmed he would travel to French Polynesia on an official visit this week between 30 August and 2 September, at the head of a seven-strong delegation that will also include an advisor to French President Nicolas Sarkozy for overseas countries and territories, Mr Olivier Biancarelli.

Also on Estrosi's agenda is a project to support a project to link French Polynesia to Hawaii by a fibre optic digital undersea cable.

Estrosi also plans to meet veterans of French nuclear tests carried out between 1966 and 1996.

On Friday last week, Estrosi spoke also in no uncertain terms about the French government's determination to be "more present" in French Polynesia.

"The (French) State will be much more present (in French Polynesia) than it has been in the past few years. Not for interference purposes, but to better support, better accompany, better listen and better understand", he said.

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