French defiant over latest N test


FRANCE dismissed outrage provoked by its sixth nuclear test in "the South Pacific, the biggest and probably the last atomic blast in its current series.

President Jacques Chirac "did what he said he would. He had the support of his ruling coalition. He did the right thing," the Urban Affairs Minister, Mr Jean

Gaudin, the first cabinetminister to comment on the test, told Europe 1 radio yesterday.

Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines condemned the underground test at the Fangataula atoll in French Polynesia at 9.30 p.m. (Irish time) on Saturday. Greenpeace described the test as scandalous.

Asked whether the test was the last in the series, Mr Gaudin said: "I think this is really the end of the French nuclear tests." But he added: "We are doubtless moving towards the end."

In France, the opposition Socialists denounced the test as a "sixth mistake" and the Green party said Mr Chirac was "obstinately alone against the whole world".

Mr Chirac has kept the option for a seventh test, by saying he will complete the series by the end of February. He says France needs the tests to validate a new warhead for its submarine based missiles and to acquire the ability to simulate tests on computer.

Officials said it would take several days to examine the results from the blast to decide if France had learned enough about nuclear explosions to call a halt.

Mr Chirac goes to the United States on Thursday for a three day visit and will address a joint session of Congress that day. The trip could provide a high profile chance to announce an end to testing.

The Australian Prime Minister, Mr Paul Keating, said the test was irresponsible and could derail current talks in Geneva on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

"Such an irresponsible action sends the worst possible signal to nations that aspire to possess nuclear weapons ... The French government is to be strongly condemned," he said.

The New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr Jim Bolger, expressed outrage but his government expected the blast would end the series. He said recent admissions of traces of radiation leakage after earlier blasts increased pressure on France to halt testing. "There is no such thing as a safe nuclear test," he said.

Japan, the only country to suffer atomic bombing, voiced deep regret and urged Paris to halt further blasts. "It is extremely regrettable," the Prime Minister, Mr Ryutaro Hashimoto, said.

The Philippines accused France of flouting the spirit of a recent Southeast Asian anti nuclear treaty.