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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 09:52 GMT
Commonwealth welcomes Fiji back
George Speight
Sanctions were imposed after Speight's coup last year
By the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney

Fiji has been reinstated as a full member of the Commonwealth after the lifting of suspensions imposed during last year's nationalist coup.

A meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in London has rewarded the Pacific nation's progress in restoring democracy.

The decision to readmit Fiji into the Commonwealth means its rehabilitation in the eyes of the international community is almost complete. Sanctions imposed, however, by the European Union remain in place.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase
Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase elected in September
Fiji's exclusion from Commonwealth business was a punishment for the overthrow of the elected government by nationalist gunmen led by George Speight in May 2000, and the suspension of the country's multi-racial constitution.

The stand-off at the parliament compound in the capital Suva lasted for 56 days.

When the deposed ethnic-Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry finally emerged from captivity, Fiji's political landscape had changed.

His government had been replaced by an interim administration, installed by military commanders who wanted to strip the Indo-Fijian minority of its political rights.

Return to democracy

The Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon has been encouraged by the country's return to democratic rule since a general election in August returned Laisenia Qarase as the new prime minister.

The two men met earlier this month to discuss Fiji's re-admittance into the organisation.

In the past, Mr Qarase has accused the Commonwealth of meddling in Fiji's domestic affairs.

New Zealand's foreign minister, Phil Gough, said his government was lifting all remaining political, sporting and military sanctions on Fiji.

Legal action

Despite the endorsement of the Commonwealth, the Ingarisay government is facing court action because of its refusal to allow its main political rival, the Fiji Labour Party, led by the ousted prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry into cabinet.

The constitution allocates seats in cabinet to all major parties in proportion to their numbers in Parliament.

A hearing is scheduled to begin in February in the court of appeal, shortly before the treason trial of coup leader George Speight is due to start. He is being held with a dozen of his close advisers on a prison island after being arrested more than a year ago.

See also:

08 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji rebel kicked out of parliament
02 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji returns to democracy
12 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji PM defies constitution
09 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Fiji risks new ethnic gulf
05 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji coup leader becomes MP
24 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji treason trial adjourned until 2002
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji coup leader joins poll race
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