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PAPEÉTE, French Polynesia (Oceania Flash, Dec. 18) - French Polynesia's former President Gaston Tong Sang was at the weekend elected as the President of the O Porinetia To Tatou Ai'a party which he formed two months ago after the was ousted in a motion of no confidence.

The creation of the party also officialized the split within former ruling pro-French party Tahoeraa Huiraatira, led by long-time ruler and veteran politician Gaston Flosse.

At the weekend, during his new party's inaugural congress, Tong Sang was the only bidder for the top position.

He received over 85 percent of the votes among the 5,500 supporters in attendance.

Tong Sang, who is regarded as a pro-French politician, during his inaugural speech, also reiterated his main objectives, especially in terms of retaining strong ties with both metropolitan France and the European Union.

Tong Sang also lashed out at his former party, which he said had been unable to renovate itself over the past few years.

He also called on a new type of politics, based on ethical values and transparency.

Tong Sang's O Porinetia To Tatou Ai'a party also received support from some prominent French Polynesian politicians, including those coming from pro-French and pro-autonomy such smaller parties as Ai'a Api, Rautahi, Fetia Api, Tiatau, Taatira no te Hau, Te Niu Hau Manahune and Te Mana Toa.

Tong Sang's election at the helm of his new party coincides with the current visit in French Polynesia of the French government's State Secretary for Overseas, Christian Estrosi.

French Polynesia is to hold snap general elections from the end of January 2008.

Former President Gaston Flosse's Tahoeraa Huiraatira as also, in recent days, has stopped short of labeling Estrosi's current visit as an act of political interference, only weeks ahead of a crucial general election to renew the French Pacific territory's legislative assembly.

Flosse's party, in a release, also expressed concern at Tong Sang and another political Béatrice Vernaudon, being flown to the northern Marquesas Island earlier this week to attend cultural festival with Estrosi, aboard military means of transport".

Meanwhile, Temaru, speaking during the budget debates at the local Parliament, has asked for a television debate between him and Estrosi.

Estrosi, when he touched down at Tahiti's Faa'a international airport at the weekend, assured he would steer clear of any political statement and would not return to French Polynesia until April 2008, a visit which has been announced as being dominated by the presence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The French State Secretary also confirmed his next visit to French Polynesia would probably take place in April 2008, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the mean time, apart from French Polynesia's general elections, municipal elections are also to be held in March 2008.

Flosse and pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru have, since July this year, struck a de facto alliance that resulted in the fall of Tong Sang by way of a motion of no confidence.

Tong Sang, at the weekend, lashed out at the two leaders' pact, saying it was tantamount to a political hold-up.

Neither Flosse, nor Temaru were present at the airport to welcome the French minister, local media reported at the weekend, adding the official reason for the President's hold-up was a cabinet meeting.

At the weekend, Estrosi officially opened a series of projects, including the laying of the foundation stone for an additional building at the Papeéte Nu'utania prison.

The 32-cell building will host people who have been convicted and are to serve a rehabilitation sentence.

Its estimated cost is about two million euros (about 2.9 million US dollars) and it is scheduled to be completed in one year.

It is to be built as a transitional measure in order to relieve the main prison, which has been saturated for the past few years.

It was also to be used as a transitional facility, pending the completion of the scheduled construction of a larger, 300-room extension to French Polynesia's overcrowded main gaol.

Still at the weekend, Estrosi officially opened a new extension building for the headquarters of French Polynesia's gendarmes (a security and law enforcement unit affiliated to the French Army) in the town of Faa'a (near the international airport of Tahiti), of which the Lord Mayor also happens to be Oscar Temaru.

Estrosi also signed further financial assistance from France to the capital Papeéte, in projects directly related to water sanitation and treatment, for a total amount of 15 million euros (21.6 million US dollars).

"This doesn’t mean more French State presence in French Polynesia, this rather means a better presence here," Estrosi told reporters.

Estrosi has at the weekend embarked on a three-day visit in French Polynesia.

This is his fourth visit to French Polynesia since he came to office June this year.

Estrosi arrived in Tahiti's international airport on Sunday (Saturday Tahiti time, GMT-10) for a three-day visit, during which he is also scheduled to visit French Polynesia's Northern Marquesas Island group.

Estrosi's recent actions in French Polynesia include a set of Bills than have earlier this month been endorsed by France's both Houses of Parliament, the Senate and the National Assembly.

The Acts are both related with an outspoken aim, on the part of the French government, to "stabilize" political life in the French Pacific territory.

During debates last month in the French Senate, one Socialist Senator (opposition) went as far as congratulating the current majority for this Bill which he labeled a first step in the "de-Flossification" of French Polynesia.

For the past four years, French Polynesia has seen five Presidents elected, then toppled in motions of no confidence in the local legislative assembly, where the majority and been shifting chronically between the two main political blocks, the pro-French Tahoeraa Huiraatira (of former long-time President Gaston Flosse) and the Union for Democracy coalition (headed by pro-independence Oscar Temaru, who is also the current President of French Polynesia).

As a direct result of the two French Bills, French Polynesia is to hold snap general elections on 27 January 2008 and on February 10, for the second round of voting.

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