French President Emmanuel Macron faced pressure to apologise for the devastating impact of decades of nuclear testing as he kicked off his first official trip to French Polynesia.
During his four-day visit, Macron plans to address the legacy of nuclear testing from 1966 to 1996 as France developed atomic weapons, as well as discuss the South Pacific territory’s strategic role and the existential risk of rising seas posed by global warming.
Residents in the sprawling archipelago of more than 100 islands located midway between Mexico and Australia are hoping Macron apologises and confirms compensation for radiation victims.
The tests remain a source of deep resentment, seen as evidence of racist colonial attitudes that disregarded the lives of islanders.
After touching down Saturday, Macron, whose 2020 trip was postponed due to the pandemic, met hospital workers fighting Covid-19 in the semi-autonomous territory where many are wary of vaccines.
“I want to send a very strong message to call on everyone to get vaccinated,” he said, adding: “When you’re vaccinated, you’re protected and you hardly spread the virus, or at least much less.”
Macron will be “encouraging several concrete steps” regarding the legacy of nuclear tests, with the opening up of state archives and individual compensation, a French presidential official who asked not to be named said.
French officials denied any cover-up of radiation exposure at a meeting earlier this month with delegates from the semi-autonomous territory led by President Edouard Fritch.
The meeting came after French investigative website Disclose reported in March that the impact from the fallout was far more extensive than authorities had acknowledged, citing declassified French military documents on the 193 test.