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French Pacific newspaper closes following pressure, attacks

(PINA/IFEX) - On 24 April 2002, the Pacific news agency PINA Nius Online reported that "Te Fenua Fo'ou", weekly newspaper of the French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna, has announced its closure. This follows pressure on the newspaper - the only one in the territory - from the traditional king of Wallis and attacks on its office, publisher Michel Bodineau said.

An e-mail from Bodineau said he is shutting the newspaper because of threats and damage done by the traditional law enforcers of the king, who is known as the Lavelua. Bodineau said he had already laid off staff.

The customary police seized computer equipment and prevented publication of the newspaper's 22 March edition. When Bodineau then printed and distributed an edition from another French territory, New Caledonia, the newspaper's Wallis headquarters were damaged and the phone line was ripped out, editor-in-chief Laurent Gourlez reported.

There had been tension between the king and Bodineau and Gourlez over coverage of a court decision involving an election candidate that the king supported. Both Bodineau and Gourlez are French nationals. The king is reported to have protested against the coverage and a photo characterisation published by "Te Fenua Fo'ou".

"Te Fenua Fo'ou" responded in an editorial that it "would not make concessions to the principle of freedom of expression, as guaranteed under the laws of the French Republic. Though it is not a newspaper's role to make comments on court decisions, it is its duty to report the way it is enforced." The traditional leadership is reported to have said that France has guaranteed to respect the customs and traditions of the islanders.

Bodineau said he had filed a complaint with French authorities over the incidents but nothing had been done.

The closure of "Te Fenua Fo'ou" leaves Wallis and Futuna with only radio and television services operated by the French overseas territories broadcasting service RFO (Radio-télévision Française d'Outre-mer).

Background Information

"Te Fenua Fo'ou" had been published from Wallis, home of the territorial capital, Mata Utu. It circulated in Wallis and Futuna and New Caledonia, where many people from Wallis and Futuna have migrated to work.

Wallis and Futuna is one of France's most remote territories and customary leadership, traditions and lifestyle remain strong. It consists of two main islands, Wallis and Futuna, more than 200 kilometres apart, and smaller surrounding islands. It is located north-east of Fiji.

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