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Temaru says membership would facilitate regional agreements

PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, August 5, 2009) - French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru has called for full Pacific Islands Forum membership in order to negotiate international agreements, such as the project for an undersea communications cable and for commercial fishing in the region.

Temaru’s message, delivered during Wednesday’s opening session of the 40th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Meeting in Cairns, Australia, was reported in Wednesday’s French language daily newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti.

This is the fifth time that Temaru has attended a Forum meeting as Tahiti’s president. He also attended four straight years from 2004 to 2007. French Polynesia, like its fellow French Pacific collectivity, New Caledonia, is an associate member of the Pacific Forum. The two former Forum Observers became associate members in 2006.

On Wednesday, Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) reported Temaru claiming support from the Cook Islands and Niue for his call for Tahiti to have full Forum membership along with 16 independent Pacific countries.

"That’s good," Temaru said of the support. French Polynesia has a lot to share with the region and many of the same challenges to face up to, RNZI reported him saying.

Before leaving Tahiti for the Forum meeting in Australia, Temaru said that by changing French Polynesia’s current status as an associate member to a full member he would be able to attend a Forum Leaders’ Retreat meeting, which traditionally follows the two-day Forum meeting.

Temaru told the media in Tahiti, "We’re (French Polynesia) not invited, and I find that unusual. So the Elysée sent a message to the Forum Secretariat (in Fiji). I’m waiting for a reply. There’s work to do there," he said, referring to the leaders’ retreat. "There are some important questions that will be asked and there are some important decisions that will be made during the retreat."

As anticipated, Fiji, which was banned from attending the forum, climate change and the global financial crisis dominated the opening Forum session.

Tuiloma Neroni Slade, the secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, set the setting for this year’s Forum meeting. He told the opening session:

"While the changing and passing years have not left the Pacific untouched, what has not changed is the fundamental fragility of our region, the exposure of homelands and the vulnerability of communities.

"The Pacific environment that leaders knew 40 meetings ago is no longer the same, and global natural systems edge towards dangerous tipping points, seemingly by the day.

"We are now in the grips of the most debilitating global financial and economic crisis. While its effects are still evolving, what is already clear is that not one single Pacific economy will be spared."

And, according to a report on his speech from the Forum Secretariat, Slade added there is a compounding H1N1, or influenza A, pandemic. That is on top of climate change, which is already taking its toll, at all levels of humanity, worldwide, he said.

During the same opening session, outgoing Forum Secretary Toke Talagi, the premier of Niue, delivered a parting speech that called on Fijians to challenge the military regime that has ruled the country since a December 2006 coup.

"Perhaps citizens of Fiji must now rise up to challenge the undemocratic rule of the military regime and restore democracy for the sake of their children’s future," Talagi said. "The people of Fiji must be responsible for constructing their own destiny."

However, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who took over from Talagi as Pacific Islands Forum secretary for the next year, "rejected calls for Fijians to rise up against their military rulers", Australia’s ABC News reported.

Rudd said he had "listened carefully" to Talagi, and "what he means" is that nobody in the region could turn a blind eye to events in Fiji, underlined by recent moves against churchmen", the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported.

"The fact that a leader of the Methodist Church can have their door banged on the middle of the night and be taken off by authorities, whacked into jail and charged with some trumped off offense under the emergency regulations put out by the military government of Fiji is profoundly disturbing," Rudd said, according to the SMH.

But, Rudd added, "we advocate, and strongly advocate, a peaceful solution to the challenges which lie ahead - a peaceful solution in which the peoples of the region and peoples in Fiji must equally engage," the SMH reported.

Forum leaders suspended Fiji from participating in its meetings in May after the self-appointed interim Prime Minister, Commander Frank Bainimarama, refused to hold early elections and, in the SMH’s words, "abrogated the constitution when the Fiji Court of Appeal ruled his government illegal and ordered fresh elections.

"The commodore has unilaterally decided on elections in 2014 under a new multiracial electoral system, from which politicians and parties he deems to be racist will be barred. These include the elected prime minister he removed in December 2006, Laisena Qarase."

The SMH report concluded, "Since May, the regime has imposed censorship on the media and blocked assemblies by the Methodist Church, which is followed by the majority of ethnic Fijians and has consistently opposed Commodore Bainimarama."

The New Zealand Herald (NZH) noted that Pacific Forum Secretary-General Slade caused some eyebrows to be raised in the audience when he thanked Australian Prime Minister Rudd for hosting the Forum meeting "in a setting so wonderfully Pacific in ambience".The NZH recalled that last year’s Forum opening session was held "in an open field in Niue with the leaders lined up on an impromptu stage, a pig on a table and taro plants displayed on a fence. A Niue dancing group leaped about vigorously and local people line one side of the field".

However, in Cairns this year, there were "the appropriate swaying palm trees and even bats," but the Forum is being held "in a grand modern auditorium, complete with professional lighting and sound system," the NZH reported. "For the opening, the forum leaders - all in suits - were led on to stage to the classical sounds of (Johann) Pachelbel," a German baroque composer.

"While Niue was a casual affair, the Cairns Forum is run like a military mission," according to the NZH.

La Dépêche de Tahiti published the group photo mentioned in the NZH report. It shows Temaru in the front row, dressed in a suit and tie.

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