14 Jan 2008

Protestors take to the streets of French Polynesia to support jailed party leader

10:01 am on 14 January 2008

An estimated 300 people have taken part in a march in Papeete in support

of a jailed French Polynesian party leader, Emile Vernaudon, with some

saying he is the victim of the system.

Mr Vernaudon of the Aia Api Party has been in prison for more than a

month as part of an investigation into the alleged abuse of public funds

when he was in charge of the state-owned post and telecommunications

company.

The Tahitipresse news agency says he has been transferred to a hospital

after complaining of a heart condition, with him greeting some of his

supporters from the hospital window.

Among the supporters were the former president, Gaston Tong Sang, who

said while he respected the judiciary, justice should apply to everybody.

He said before Emile Vernaudon, many thought that being mayor, minister

or president allowed them to use public funds to help the people.

But now, he says, money must be managed differently.

Attempts to have Mr Vernaudon freed on bail to contest the territorial

election in two weeks have been unsuccessful.

His partner, Heifara Izal, has replaced him on the list of candidates

which has been drawn up by Mr Tong Sang's To Tatou Aia Party.

Last March, Emile Vernaudon was given an 18-month suspended prison

sentence for corruption and the criminal court also fined him 15,000 US

dollars.