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Fiji military extends its grip on power

The Associated Press    Translate This Article
17 April 2009

SUVA, Fiji (AP) - Fiji's military government extended its grip on power Friday as a former army commander was sworn in as vice president of the volatile South Pacific nation.

Armed forces chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama, meanwhile, said the country should accept that he is in control and move on, following a week of turmoil in which the constitution was abolished and media freedoms squashed.

'There is no need to speculate as to what happened, how it happened, what should have happened or what should not have happened,' Bainimarama said in a speech to public servants that was posted on the government's Web site.

Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup, said his government 'is not interim nor is it a caretaker government' and would remain in power until elections in September 2014.

Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Fiji's military chief in the 1980s who has been a senior minister in Bainimarama's government, was sworn in Friday as vice president by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

The ceremony at Government House in the capital, Suva, came one week after Iloilo abrogated the constitution, sacked the nation's judges and declared a state of emergency following an Appeal Court ruling that Bainimarama's government was illegal.

Iloilo reappointed Bainimarama as prime minister a day later, drawing international condemnation that a virtual military dictatorship had been created in Fiji.

Bainimarama's coup ousted an ethnic Fijian-dominated government and he has vowed to rewrite the constitution and electoral laws to remove what he says is discrimination against the country's large ethnic Indian minority before holding elections in 2014. Critics say he shows little sign of being willing to give up power.

While the office of president is largely ceremonial under the abolished constitution, Nailatikau's appointment puts another Bainimarama ally in a prime position to succeed the ailing Iloilo, 88.

Senior bureaucrats including the central bank governor have also been replaced this week.

Pressure is mounting among South Pacific nations to suspend Fiji from a key regional group, as countries seek new ways to pressure Bainimarama to restore democracy quickly.

The head of the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum, Toke Talagi, said Fiji should be suspended immediately, and New Zealand backed the idea.

Talagi said Fiji's suspension would mean moving the group's secretariat from Suva and would pose major problems for smaller nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati.

The regional trade and diplomatic group had already threatened to suspend Fiji from May 1.

But the idea has failed in the past in part because Fiji has the huge and sparse region's largest air and sea ports, and smaller island states rely on those services for basic necessities such as fuel and food.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said Fiji's suspension from the forum was a matter of time unless there was 'some miraculous turnaround' and that if the forum wanted to do it immediately, 'New Zealand is likely to support that call.'

Paul Reeves, the British Commonwealth's special envoy to Fiji, said the 53-member organization was also considering suspending Fiji's membership and would take its lead from the Pacific forum.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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