Page last updated at 04:29 GMT, Tuesday, 28 April 2009 05:29 UK

Nuclear claims heard in Polynesia

French nuclear test at Mururoa, French Polynesia, in 1970
France carried out 210 nuclear tests over three decades

A court in French Polynesia has begun hearing complaints from former workers at France's nuclear weapons test sites.

The cases, being heard for the first time, relate to work in Mururoa and Fangataufa and seek recognition and compensation for ill health.

Eight cases have been lodged, although five of the workers have already died of what have been called radiation-linked diseases.

In March, the French government enacted legislation to allow compensation.

This could apply in cases relating to nuclear tests in the Pacific and Africa.

Radio New Zealand reported that questions have been raised about whether the hearing would be impartial.

Before the hearing started, the French Polynesian president, Oscar Temaru, met some of the veterans' representatives.

They plan a march and to sing and pray outside the court to publicise their mistrust.

In a bid for transparency, they had asked for the court proceedings to be filmed but they were told that eight days is not enough to organise such a recording, Radio New Zealand reported.

Mr Temaru said the matter should be judged by an international court.

Roland Oldham, president of Moruroa E Tatou, which represents the former workers, says former French employees in the same situation have been compensated, and his members want to be treated equally.

"It would be unbelievable if Polynesian people in the same situation cannot win their cases," he told Radio Australia.

France tested nuclear weapons in the South Pacific for 30 years until 1996, exploding almost 200 nuclear bombs on the island.

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