Asia

French Polynesia territory profile

  • 14 April 2016
  • From the section Asia
Map of French Polynesia

French Polynesia is a sprawling possession of France in the Pacific Ocean, made up of 118 volcanic and coral islands and atolls, including Tahiti.

For France this huge stretch of the Pacific - as big as Western Europe - remains strategically valuable. Atomic testing on the atolls enabled France to keep the nuclear clout it needed to remain one of the world's leading powers.

There are five island groups - the Society Islands, the Tuamotu archipelago, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands and the Tubuai Islands. Tahiti is the most densely-populated island.

European contact was gradual; the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and British were credited with the discovery of one or more of the islands. In the 18th century European traders and missionaries came, bringing diseases that wiped out much of the indigenous population.

The missionaries tried to put a stop to local religious practices, nudity and other aspects of indigenous life. Some forms of Polynesian culture were lost for many years.

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Image caption Dancers in traditional costume at an event in Papeete

Tahiti, in the Society islands, became a French colony in 1880. France later annexed other islands to form the French Colony of Oceania. In 1946 the islands became an overseas territory and in 2004 gained "overseas country" status.

Pro-independence movements flourished in the 1970s and over time the islands took more control of internal affairs, culminating in a statute granting increased autonomy in 1996.

In 2014, French Polynesia's assembly adopted a resolution asking France to pay nearly $1bn in compensation for the environmental damage caused by its nuclear weapons tests. The resolution was tabled by the ruling anti-independence party without the support of the territorial government, signalling a major rift within the party's ranks.

French Polynesia enjoys a high standard of living, but wealth is unevenly distributed and unemployment is high.

Tourism is an important money-earner; travellers favour Tahiti and Bora Bora. Boasting a year-round warm climate, volcanic peaks and tranquil lagoons, it is easy to see why the islands are popular. French Polynesia is, though, prone to typhoons.

FACTS

French Polynesia

Status: French overseas territory

  • Population 277,000

  • Area 4,167 sq km (1,609 sq miles)

  • Major languages Tahitian and French

  • Major religion Christian

  • Life expectancy 73 years (men), 78 years (women)

  • Currency

Getty Images

LEADERS

Head of state: The president of France, represented by a high commissioner

President: Edouard Fritch

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Edouard Fritch became president of French Polynesia in September 2014 after his predecessor, veteran politician Gaston Flosse, was forced to resign over a conviction for corruption.

Mr Flosse stepped aside after failing to secure a pardon from President Francois Hollande over the conviction, which was upheld by France's highest court in August.

Mr Flosse was convicted for running a vast network of phantom jobs to support his political party in one of the biggest cases of its kind in French legal history. He was sentenced to a four-year suspended jail term, a large fine, and banned from public office for three years.

Edouard Fritch is number two in the governing Tahoeraa Huiraatira party which Mr Flosse still heads. He has served several times as a minister and was formerly Speaker of the French Polynesia assembly.

MEDIA

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption A nuclear test on Mururoa atoll in 1971

There are two daily newspapers. TV and radio services are provided by the French public overseas broadcaster, the Reseau Outre-Mer, and by private operators.

Multichannel TV is available; channels include French and international stations.

The press

Radio

Television

  • Polynesie 1 - public, operated by France's Reseau Outre-Mer, provides two channels
  • Tahiti Nui TV - government-operated

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