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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Tahiti memorial commemorating those impacted by French nuclear tests in danger of removal

The French Polynesian government’s decision to remove a monument on Tahiti dedicated to those who suffered from repeated French nuclear testing in the South Pacific is facing growing opposition, including from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On June 11, the government, headed by French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse, decided to rescind permission to use the current location in a park that sits along the ocean in the capital, Papeete.
“It is desirable to construct new facilities to accept yachts and boats and renovate (current) facilities for tourists,” Flosse said.

The memorial, which was erected in 2006 after the government gave permission to use the site free of charge, consists of rocks collected from areas impacted by the testing as well as wooden markers.
France conducted nuclear tests on the remote islands in the archipelago for 30 years starting in the mid-1960s.

The park where the memorial stands was renamed the “Place de 2 Juillet 1966” (July 2, 1966, plaza), to mark the date of France’s first nuclear test in the South Pacific.

The government’s decision to remove the memorial caused a global stir among those opposed to nuclear weapons including Noriko Sakashita, 71, who suffered as a result of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, but who now resides in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture. She visited the memorial immediately before the June 11 decision.
“I can’t believe that the place where I offered flowers just the other day is going to be abolished,” she said.

A local group affected by the French nuclear tests started a petition to oppose the removal in cooperation with citizens' groups from other countries.

Toshiki Mashimo, a part-time lecturer at Saitama University, who is taking part in the campaign, wrote an open letter addressed to Flosse calling for the eternal preservation of the memorial. His request was handed over to an official of the local government in French Polynesia on June 30 by a member of the United Church of Christ in Japan.
 “A ceremony to mourn for the people who have suffered nuclear damage throughout the world is held in front of the memorial every year. It is a sacred place. Japan is a country which suffered atomic bombings. In addition, many Japanese people visit Tahiti for sightseeing. It is meaningful to express opposition from such a country (Japan),” Mashimo said.

On July 2, Flosse proposed an alternative site for the memorial to a local group, saying, “There will be no problems if the memorial is relocated to a different place.” However, many people oppose the idea and support keeping it at its current location.

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