7 Feb 2005

Mass rallies in French Polynesia ahead of by-election for 37 seats

6:33 am on 7 February 2005

French Polynesia's main rival camps have held mass rallies ahead of next week's by-election for 37 of the territorial assembly's 57 seats.

An estimated twenty thousand people marched in support of the Oscar Temaru-led Union for Democracy coalition, calling for political change and an end to corruption.

Among the marchers into the centre of Papeete were French Socialist MPs and a Green senator who criticised the French government's handling of the territory's political crisis.

A rival rally was held by backers of the ruling Tahoeraa Huiraatira who organised a drive of 2,000 cars around the island of Tahiti.

The event's organiser, Emile Vernier, says their demonstration was against racism, hate and independence from France.

Meanwhile, the leader of the French centrist UDF party, Francois Bayrou, is in Tahiti to support the alliance formed by Nicole Bouteau and Philip Schyle.

He says he is concerned about the situation in the territory where he says voters have to make a historic choice.

Mr Bayrou says the alliance offers a way out of the dangerous climate with its predictable confrontations.

The alliance says after the election it won't side with either of the major blocs.

The latest opinion poll by a Papeete paper lists the Tahoeraa as the leading party and Ms Bouteau as the preferred leader.