TEMARU CABINET RESIGN OVER CONVICTION IN TAHITI

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Jan. 30, 2008) – All 15 remaining cabinet ministers in the government of French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru resigned en masse Wednesday in support of one minister who resigned earlier in the day after his court conviction Tuesday.

Gilles Tefaatau resigned Wednesday morning as minister of small and medium businesses and industry. A Papeete criminal court convicted him of a conflict of interest dating back to a period from August to December 2005.

The judge fined Tefaatau 500,000 French Pacific francs (US$6,329/€4,190), but rejected the prosecutor's recommendation that he be declared ineligible to hold public office for two years.

Tefaatau announced Wednesday he would appeal the court decision, saying he did not profit personally from the case, either directly or indirectly.

Temaru, surrounded by his ministers, held a press conference late Wednesday afternoon to announce his government's resignations, but said he intends to form a new government "within a few days". Under the autonomy statue, he has five days to form what would be his fourth government since the previous general election in May 2004.

The resignations occurred three days after the first round of a general election for the 57 French Polynesia Assembly representatives and 11 days before the scheduled Feb. 10 second round. The resignations are not expected to affect the timing of the second round.

Tefaatau is N° 41 on Temaru's list of candidates and backups for the 37 French Polynesia Assembly seats representing the Windward Islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Maiao.

Former French Polynesia President Gaston Tong Sang, who scored a big upset over Temaru in Sunday's first round of voting, had nothing but harsh criticism for the pro-independence party leader on Wednesday.

Tong Sang issued a media communiqué accusing the Temaru government of being unable to adopt a budget and of illegally using the presidential plane for election campaign trips.

The resignation of the Temaru government ministers is "the last trick of a team that has shown its incompetence throughout" its term, Tong Sang charged.

During a radio interview Wednesday, Jean-Christophe Bouissou, the leader of a small party in Tong Sang's six-party coalition, said the Temaru government's resignation en masse meant they were abandoning a sinking ship. Bouissou is N° 3 on Tong Sang's list of candidates for the Windward Islands.

Emphasizing their values of "honesty" and integrity", the 15 other Temaru government ministers denounced what they described as Tefaatau's "unexpected conviction", suggesting that the French state may have had a role to play.

The resignations provided Temaru with another occasion to criticize the French state in general and French Overseas State Secretary Christian Estrosi in particular.

Temaru singled out Estrosi's telephone call Monday to Nicole Bouteau, during which the junior minister reportedly encouraged her to form an alliance with Tong Sang. However, Ms. Bouteau decided not to form any alliance. (See earlier article: "Tahiti's voters face historic Round 2 of voting on Feb. 10, possible Round 3 on Feb. 21.")

During Wednesday's press conference, Temaru said, "I congratulate her for having refused this idea of Mr. Estrosi's. It's the first time that an intervention of this type (by a French government official). There was never a similar intervention during the time of (former French President) Jacques Chirac.

Temaru also said that a charge had been filed in court Wednesday morning, accusing Estrosi of alleged election campaign interference dating back to last December.

Temaru added that Estrosi supposedly also called Gaston Flosse following Sunday's first round of voting, although he added, "It remains to be verified." Flosse's pro-France, pro-Tahiti autonomy party finished a surprising third Sunday behind Temaru's and Tong Sang's lists.

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