French Polynesia

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French Polynesia is a French Overseas Collectivity (collectivité d'outre-mer) in the Polynesian South Pacific Ocean. It is made up of the island groups Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Maupiti...), Tuamotus (Fakarava, Hao, Moruroa, Rangiroa), Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, Marquesas Islands (Nuku Hiva, Ua Pu, Hiva Oa). It has a population of 250000 and the capital is Papeete on Tahiti. The French government maintained a nuclear weapons testing facility on Moruroa from 1966, following the loss of Algeria, where tests had previously been conducted. The tests were highly controversial amongst environmentalists, leading to the famous sinking of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior by the DGSE in 1985. The site was finally closed in 1996.

The Collectivity has a degree of regional autonomy within France, having a different taxation structure and also outside of the Eurozone, though education, justice, immigration, military and foreign affairs are handled from Paris. Though education is in French, the Tahitian language also enjoys support from the regional government, and many signs around the islands are in both languages. There is concern in some quarters that the status of non-French EU citizens in French Polynesia is unclear, as regional authorities have placed restrictions on their stay in the islands, including exacting of fees for permit to remain on the islands - which are illegal under EU law. The French government issued a promise to investigate the matter, but the current situation remains ambiguous.

The economy is partly dependent on receipts from the French central government to meet expenditures, and the islands have a substantial trade deficit, since most goods must be imported, the islands having little industrial base and few natural resources. The main industries are tourism and production of tropical foodstuffs. The military was once a major employer, but since the cessation of nuclear testing in 1996, this source of employment has largely disappeared, plunging the less accessible - and thus less touristically viable - eastern islands into a precarious economic position.

Tahiti is the main island and capital of the region. During the regions time as a host to the French nuclear programme, a sizeable airport infrastructure was built up on numerous islands, with Fa'a airport (Papeete, Tahiti) serving as the main link between the islands and mainland France, and as such Papeete remains the hub of economic, social and political activity for the region, and holds its only direct links to mainland France, as well as international links. It is also home to the University of French Polynesia, the only research university in French Polynesia, and one of the leading institutions in the South Pacific.

The Gambier Islands, and the extreme eastern end of the region are notable for being the nearest inhabited land to Pitcairn Island, one of the most remote habited islands on the planet, around 500km to the South-East. As such they act as a very minor "gateway" for the very modest freight and passenger traffic to Pitcairn. Even though the latter is a British territory, Britain provides no direct links to that territory from the UK, so all contact is via Gambier. A small freighter/passenger boat makes a return crossing every three months, the journey taking about 36 hours. Gambier itself is served by one flight a week from Papeete (Tahiti).

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