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Fiji's prime minister goes into hiding following coup threat

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  • #16
    Deposed Fijian prime minister Laisenia Qarase says Fijians are planning peaceful protests against this week's coup and could force the new military regime to back down within weeks.

    An influential council of chiefs has expressed anger over the bloodless coup, four days after military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power.

    Meanwhile, the regime has conceded that plans to "clean up" corrupt government and reinstall the temporarily ousted president will take longer than expected.

    Mr Qarase says anger among Fijians at the take-over is likely to lead to passive protests and civil disobedience before Christmas.

    "Some groups are getting organised and that could be a very effective means if a lot of people come out and express their anger and disgust over this illegal takeover," he said.

    "I think it will happen soon because the feeling of anger is high, the feeling of disappointment, so it would probably be better to do it earlier rather than later."

    Bloodshed feared

    Commodore Bainimarama has threatened to crack down on any uprising with force.

    He has said people are entitled to disagree with the military's actions but he would crush any uprising or incitement to revolt.

    On Wednesday, Commodore Bainimarama said intelligence had revealed plans to disrupt the peace and warned: "If we are pushed to use force, let me state we will do so very quickly".

    Mr Qarase says demonstrations would have to be managed carefully to ensure there is no bloodshed.

    He says there is no cause for the military to use their arms against protesters.

    "They can't shoot people without provocation," he said.

    "Even with provocation, why should they shoot people? Because the people don't have any arms or ammunition."

    Mr Qarase says he wants to be involved in any peaceful movement to restore democracy.

    New Zealand and Australian leaders have called for passive resistance and civil disobedience by Fijians.

    Tension

    Fiji's capital, Suva, remains tense after Commodore Bainimarama tightened his grip on power by dismissing senior police chiefs and top public servants, who refused to cooperate with the military regime.

    Troops patrol Suva and have set up checkpoints on main roads in and out of the city.

    When announcing the coup, Commodore Bainimarama said it was planned that the indigenous body that appoints the president, the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC), would meet next week to reappoint president Ratu Josefa Iloilo

    But the GCC has instead condemned the coup and cancelled the meeting next week, leaving the military leader to continue filling the role of President.

    Protests planned against Fiji coup: Qarase

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    • #17
      The Commonwealth suspended Fiji's membership yesterday in protest at this week's military coup - the third time in 20 years that the Pacific nation has been suspended because of military takeovers.

      The decision was made by an action group of foreign ministers from several countries, including Britain, meeting in London. As a result, Fiji will be banned from all Commonwealth meetings until democracy is restored. Technical assistance programmes will also be suspended.

      It came as witnesses reported hearing sustained gunfire from inside Fiji's main military barracks this morning, four days after the army overthrew the government. Residents of the capital, Suva, told Reuters they heard gunfire in the Queen Elizabeth barracks, which continued for 30 minutes. The military later described it as "an unscheduled shooting exercise".

      On Tuesday, Fiji's military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, announced that he had taken control, saying the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, was corrupt and had been too lenient towards the plotters of a coup in 2000.

      The Commonwealth secretary general, Don McKinnon, said all member countries have been asked to put pressure on Fiji to restore democracy. "The Commonwealth ministerial action group unanimously and unequivocally condemned the military takeover of Fiji's democratically elected government, in total disregard of the authority of the prime minister and parliament," he said yesterday.

      Mr McKinnon added that he hoped the crisis would be resolved peacefully. "Just because this was a bloodless coup, it doesn't always remain that way," he said.

      Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, has condemned the coup as "wholly unconstitutional" and "a major setback" to the island's process of democracy.

      Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in 1987 after a coup, and was readmitted in 1997. The state was also suspended in 2000 after Commodore Bainimarama declared martial law, and readmitted a year later.

      Commonwealth suspends Fiji after coup

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      • #18
        Fiji's military regime has warned deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase he could be sent to an island prison if he returns to the capital, Suva.

        Qarase said on Saturday he planned to return to the capital early this week from his home island in Fiji's remote Lau group, where he fled after military commander Frank Bainimarama seized power last Tuesday.

        He has called for peaceful opposition to the coup, but Land Force commander Pita Driti said the army was prepared for any confrontation the former prime minister's arrival may spark.

        The military has warned Qarase could end up on Nukulau Island, just off Suva, where 2000 coup leader George Speight is serving a life term for treason.

        "It's good that we've known his intentions and there is a possibility that we could remove him from his home island in Vanuabalavu and take him straight to Nukulau Island Prison if he still wants to create trouble," Driti told the Fiji Sun newspaper.

        "If not, we will wait for him to arrive in Suva and we will deal with him."

        Qarase said he expected to be arrested and questioned by the military regime, but army spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said he could not predict Bainimarama's reaction.

        "As far the military force is concerned, he's coming back just as a citizen," Leweni said. "I could not say at the moment what the commander's reaction will be."

        Qarase said several of his parliamentary colleagues had been taken in for questioning by the army but he would not be intimidated.

        The army confirmed it was rounding up dissenters and taking them to Queen Elizabeth Barracks for questioning, in what it says is a bid to avoid civil unrest.

        Fiji's Human Rights Commission said it was investigating the military's treatment of former government minister Kenneth Zinck at the barracks on Wednesday.

        Zinck was taken from a Suva nightclub by soldiers after he was overheard by Bainimarama's brother making negative comments about the military commander.

        He has told Legend Radio that within five minutes, the soldiers had come in to the club and taken him to the barracks where he was made to run around an oval while four soldiers ran behind him with guns pointed at his back.

        "Intimidatory tactics do not help the situation at all if he (Bainimarama) wants peace, calm and harmony in the country."

        Other senior figures in Qarase's Sosoqoso Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party, including national director Peceli Kinivuwai, have been taken to the military camp, according to the Fiji Times.

        The military is still searching for finance ministry chief Paula Uluinaceva who has been missing since Tuesday's coup.

        The military believes Uluinaceva is still in the country and has called on him to give himself up.

        Qarase warned he may be sent to prison

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        • #19
          Fiji's Tourism Action Group (TAG), which led the hard-hit industry's recovery after the 2000 coup d'etat, has been reactivated to deal with the present crisis.

          Its focus will be on the major markets of Australia and New Zealand, a statement from the Fiji Islands Visitors Bureau said.

          TAG will meet with Fiji tourism industry representatives on Friday "and expects to be able to assist with a quick recovery with industry support," the statement added.

          A secretariat has been established at the bureau's head office in Nadi (email tag@bulafiji.com).

          TAG was formed after the 2000 coup led by George Speight - later jailed for life - and successfully led tourism back to its position as Fiji's top money-earner.

          The recovery began with a meeting in Sigatoka, on the mid-south coast, attended by foreign diplomats as well as tourism and aviation industry leaders.

          A Fiji Indian businessman, Damend Gounder of Nadi, is again chairman of TAG which will have two subcommittees, one for international marketing and the other dealing with relations with government, and overseas embassies and high commissions.

          Australia and New Zealand, the two main suppliers of tourists to Fiji, and other countries, have issued warnings against their citizens visiting the island nation following the takeover of government last week by military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

          Tourist numbers are estimated to be 25 per cent down with resorts and airlines reporting numerous cancellations over the last ten days.

          Spokespersons for Fiji resorts, most of which are in the far west of the main island, say their activities are unaffected by the coup in the capital Suva, 200km away.

          Group called up to save Fiji's tourism

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          • #20
            FIJI seems certain to lose its chairing role of the Pacific Islands Forum - a premier political and economic organisation in the region.

            In his first statement since military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized presidential powers in the Pacific island country, forum secretary-general Greg Urwin said the position of Fiji in the organisation was under consideration.

            Mr Urwin also expressed his deep regret over the December 5 developments in Fiji.

            "As the actions of the Republic of Fiji military forces now prevent Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase from exercising his leadership of the Fiji Government, and have also made it impossible as a matter of practicality for him to fulfil his duties as forum chair at the present time, forum leaders are considering an alternative chairing arrangement,'' he said.

            Mr Urwin said forum members had expressed their collective commitment to upholding democratic processes and institutions in forum member countries.

            "Forum members wish to assist Fiji move swiftly and peacefully toward the restoration of democratic government, within the boundaries of Fiji's constitution and the rule of law,'' he said.

            Mr Urwin said the impacts of the coup were already beginning to have serious consequences, not only for the economy and the welfare of the people of Fiji, but also (for) the international reputation of Fiji and the region as a whole.

            "The crisis in Fiji must be resolved through negotiation, within the constitution and with respect for the rule of law,'' he said.

            Mr Urwin said the good offices of the forum were available to help further dialogue between the government and Fiji military toward a peaceful resolution of the situation.

            "The forum is consulting with the (military)-installed regime and other relevant stakeholders in Fiji to ascertain their willingness to speak with a forum eminent persons group to be convened as soon as possible, as mandated by forum foreign ministers on December 1,'' he said.

            The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), formerly the South Pacific Forum until a name change in October 2000, was founded in August 1971 and comprises 16 independent and self-governing states in the Pacific.

            The PIF is the regions' premier political and economic policy organisation.

            Forum leaders meet annually to develop collective responses to regional issues.

            The last meeting was in late-October in Fiji, attended by Prime Minister John Howard.

            Political forum considers dumping Fiji

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            • #21
              WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - The United States has suspended aid to Fiji in response to a bloodless military coup that deposed the South Pacific island nation's elected prime minister, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday.

              "This decision covers approximately $2.5 million in primarily military-related assistance," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement announcing the suspension.

              The decision also prevents any new U.S. economic assistance programs for Fiji, the statement said.

              The United States reiterates its condemnation of the Fiji military's overthrow and calls for restoration of the elected government, McCormack said.

              The United States temporarily suspended aid to Fiji on Dec. 5 after Fiji's military took over in the country's fourth coup in 20 years.

              Under law, the U.S. government must cut off aid to countries where there has been a coup or a coup attempt, although the requirement can be waived if necessary.

              U.S. suspends aid to Fiji in response to coup

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              • #22
                Police yesterday confirmed that Fiji's ousted prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, was under investigation for possible treason following a desperate call for help he made to the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the height of the coup in December.

                A police spokesman said the issue had become public on Friday and was being dealt with by the assistant commissioner, crime, Jo Rafiga.

                Mr Qarase, who has been on his home island of Vanua Balavu in the Lau group after he was tipped from power on December 5, has released a statement categorically denying he asked Mr Howard for military intervention.

                "I don't know what sort of evidence they [police] will get to support that [allegation]," Mr Qarase told the news service Fiji Live.

                Before December's coup Mr Qarase was trying to get the coup leader, and now President, Commodore Frank Bainimarama prosecuted for sedition.

                On December 5 Mr Qarase said he had called Mr Howard but suggestions he had asked for military help were "only an interpretation". "He [Mr Howard] said Australia would not intervene and I told him I appreciated the difficulties and thanked him for discussing it with me," he said.

                However, Mr Howard said on Melbourne radio on December 8 that he had received a request for military intervention. "To respond to a request for military intervention in a situation like Fiji, it is something that would have been carefully planned," he said.

                Former Fijian PM may be charged with treason

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