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Fiji Commander threatens to oust gov't
by Rick Rycroft

The Associated Press    Translate This Article
1 December 2006

SUVA, Fiji (AP) - Fiji's military chief on Thursday declared talks with the prime minister to avert a coup a failure and issued a fresh threat to replace the government unless it moves immediately to meet his demands.

The government said it was making concessions to Commodore Frank Bainimarama after talks in New Zealand this week. But the military leader said elected officials had not gone far enough, and set a Friday deadline for its capitulation.

Bainimarama wants Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to kill legislation that would grant pardons to conspirators in a 2000 coup in the South Pacific island nation, and quash two other bills that he says unfairly favor indigenous Fijians over the ethnic Indian minority.

He also is demanding the removal of Fiji's police chief, who has threatened to charge Bainimarama with sedition.

``We have given the government until tomorrow afternoon to answer to our demands,'' Bainimarama told reporters Thursday evening, naming noon Friday as the deadline.

``If by tomorrow afternoon they have not answered to our demands, then we will take it for granted that we have been endorsed to do the cleaning up campaign in Fiji,'' he said. ``We hope this is going to be a peaceful transition, because we don't expect any confrontation—nor do we expect any opposition.''

In a statement broadcast nationally, Prime Minister Qarase said the government would suspend work on the bills. He also said the contract of the police chief was due to end soon, and that his appointment would be reviewed.

Bainimarama and Qarase have been locked in a bitter dispute for almost two years, and the military commander has repeatedly threatened to force out the government.

Hours after talks ended in New Zealand, soldiers fired flares and set up checkpoints in a show of force in Fiji's capital. The military said it was a training exercise to prepare troops for any possible intervention by foreign forces.

Bainimarama has defied international pressure, including appeals from the U.N. secretary-general and the U.N. Security Council to respect Fiji's democracy. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also urged Bainimarama to back down. ``Fiji risks international isolation if the military proceeds down this dangerous path,'' he said.

Australia has three navy ships off Fiji, prompting speculation that the prime minister had sought help from foreign troops. Qarase denied it; Australian officials said the ships were there in case Australian citizens needed to be evacuated.

Fiji, a nation of about 900,000 people about 1,800 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia, has had three coups since 1987.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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