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POLITICS-FIJI: Confusion Reigns as Military Completes Coup

Shailendra Singh

SUVA, Dec 5 2006 (IPS) - Confusion reigned in Fiji, Tuesday, as the military announced completion of a planned coup and detained Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase while President Ratu Josefa Iloilo refused to endorse the actions of military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Confusion reigned in Fiji, Tuesday, as the military announced completion of a planned coup and detained Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase while President Ratu Josefa Iloilo refused to endorse the actions of military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

”As of six o’clock this evening, the military has taken over the government, has executive authority and is running this country,” Bainimarama declared at a news conference, explaining that he had assumed presidential powers to dismiss Qarase.

However, the President himself said in a statement that he “neither condones nor supports” the actions taken by Bainimarama and pronounced them to be ”clearly outside the constitution, contrary to the rule of law and our democratic ideals”.

Speaking for the first time since the political crisis escalated this week, Ratu Josefa said the military had acted contrary to his wishes, which were that a solution to the impasse had be found within the boundaries of the law. He said he would remain in office “to preserve some semblance of continuity while keeping the situation under review”.

Bainimarama said he would soon be returning presidential powers back to Ratu Josefa, who he expected to appoint a full interim government.


Earlier, Qarase said he had received word from the president’s office to either accept the military’s demands or resign. “I know what he (Ratu Josefa) wants of me and I do not agree to these propositions – for me to accept all the demands or to resign – and I cannot do either of those,” Qarase told Radio New Zealand International.

But, in the statement, President Ratu Josefa clearly disassociated himself from the military actions or the demands made by Bainimarama. These included withdrawal of legislation favouring indigenous Fijians over other racial groups. Qarase had offered to suspend the contentious bills, but said he could not agree to demands that went outside the law.

Earlier, the independent website ‘Fijilive.com’ reported that the military appeared set on arresting key government ministers and chief executives with a view to holding them on Nukulau Island prison where the leader of the 2000 coup, George Speight is lodged.

Land Force Commander Colonel Pita Driti told the portal that the ministers will be taken to Nukulau, an island prison close to Suva and that he was still awaiting word from the commander of the military, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, about the status of the prime minister.

Reacting to the developments, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke said that Fiji’s Constitution only allowed the president to remove the prime minister if he lost the confidence of parliament. “Mr Qarase’s government was duly elected by the people,” Clark said warning that any administration appointed to replace the Qarase Government would be considered illegal.

Bainimarama has been at loggerheads with the government for months, alleging that it was corrupt and was protecting the perpetrators of the 2000 coup, carried out in the name of protecting the rights of indigenous Fijians.

A presidential order would have paved the way for the formation of an interim administration and legitimised a military putsch that began in earnest on Monday with soldiers disarming police, fanning out across Suva and setting up checkpoints on roads leading to the central business district and other key installations.

The takeover intensified Tuesday morning when soldiers began seizing the official vehicles of cabinet ministers and surrounded Qarase’s residence, where he was holed up with some of his ministers. The embattled prime minister remained defiant, while admitting there are few options left. “I have not conceded defeat, but there are few options left to me,” Qarase told fijilive.com.

”There is virtually a coup taking place – the have strangled the police force – they have neutralised them in terms of arms and ammunition – and now they are strangling the government machinery today.”

The military action, while widely anticipated, still shocked many when it actually did take place. People have been following the unfolding drama closely on TV and over radio, which have been providing around the clock coverage.

”This was bound to happen,” said Shiri Ram, a magazine publisher and designer based in Suva. “I only hope that there is no bloodshed or lives lost, and that we recover from these unfortunate events as quickly as possible.”

Most businesses and towns in the country have opened and people have been going about their normal lives.

Fiji’s 900,000 people have been torn by differences between the majority indigenous Fijians and other racial groups, the largest being ethnic Indians first brought in as indentured labour by British colonials.

 
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POLITICS-FIJI: Confusion Reigns as Military Completes Coup

Shailendra Singh

SUVA, Dec 5 2006 (IPS) - Confusion reigned in Fiji, Tuesday, as the military announced completion of a planned coup and detained Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase while President Ratu Josefa Iloilo refused to endorse the actions of military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
(more…)

 
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