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French Polynesian president acknowledges nuclear test lies

FILE - This July 27, 1995 file photo shows the Mururoa Atoll bases, 750 miles southeast of Tahiti, French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean. French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch said Thursday the leaders of the French collectivity in the South Pacific "lied" to the population for three decades over the dangers of the controversial nuclear testing. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, file)

PARIS (AP) — French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch has said the leaders of the French collectivity of islands in the South Pacific lied to the population for three decades over the dangers of nuclear testing.

From 1960 to 1996, France carried out 193 nuclear tests in French Polynesia. The images, such as a mushroom cloud over the Mururoa atoll, provoked international protests.

“I’m not surprised that I’ve been called a liar for 30 years. We lied to this population that the tests were clean. We lied,” Fritch told officials in the local assembly Thursday in footage broadcast by Tahiti Nui Television.

France’s overseas ministry declined to comment when contacted by the AP Friday.

Bowing to decades of pressure, in 2010 the French government offered millions of euros in compensation for the government’s 201 nuclear tests in the South Pacific and Algeria. But the process is painstaking and many have still not received compensation.

Bruno Barrillot, a whistleblower investigating the impact of the Polynesian nuclear testing who died last year, raised awareness on the disproportionate rates of thyroid cancer and leukemia to hit Polynesia’s 280,000 residents.

In 2016, then-President Francois Hollande acknowledged during a visit that nuclear weapons tests carried out in French territories in the South Pacific did have consequences for the environment and residents’ health.

But Hollande spoke also about the testing in positive terms as he praised the region’s contribution to France’s position as one of the world’s nine nuclear powers.

The presidential visit came three years after French media reported declassified defense ministry papers exposing South Pacific nuclear tests from the 1960s and 1970s as being far more toxic than previously acknowledged.

At the time, the media reported that the whole of French Polynesia had been hit by levels of plutonium in the aftermath of the testing.

Tahiti, its most populous island that was romanticized in the paintings of Paul Gauguin, was exposed to 500 times the maximum accepted levels of radiation. The fallout extended as far as the popular tourist island of Bora Bora.

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