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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 01:42 GMT
Fiji talks 'fail to end crisis'
Cmdr Frank Bainimarama in Suva on 10 November 2006
Cmdr Bainimarama has been at odds with Mr Qarase for months
Talks between Fiji PM Laisenia Qarase and military chief Frank Bainimarama aimed at averting a military coup have ended with no sign of agreement.

Both men left the meeting, in the New Zealand capital, Wellington, looking sombre and declining to comment.

The two arch-rivals have been at loggerheads for months, but the crisis has recently escalated.

Commodore Bainimarama has repeatedly threatened to overthrow the government, accusing it of corruption and lying.

Mr Qarase said before the meeting that he was ready to listen to the army's concerns, but added that some of the military's demands could threaten democracy.

Fiji's neighbours want to prevent another coup in the country - which has already had three in the past 20 years.

Amnesties

The talks last about two hours, and ended with Cmdr Bainimarama driving away to catch a flight back to Fiji.

The military leader had said he would not negotiate with Mr Qarase.

"It's very simple. He comes with a 'yes' or a 'no' to our demands, full stop," he told New Zealand radio before the meeting.

But Mr Qarase said on Wednesday he hoped some of the military's demands would be dropped, as they were a "threat to our democracy".

The heart of the feud between the military and Mr Qarase's government lies in plans by the government to offer amnesties to those involved in a racially-motivated coup six years ago.

The proposal is bitterly opposed by Cmdr Bainimarama, who was the main target of the mutiny, and was forced to flee for his life.

In the past few months, Cmdr Bainimarama has accused the government of corruption and lying, and has repeatedly threatened to force Mr Qarase to resign.

The government tried to replace him at the end of October, but the military stood by their leader and the bid failed.

Mr Qarase has now dropped the amnesty plans, but the situation has only escalated further. On Monday Cmdr Bainimarama issued Mr Qarase with a list of "non-negotiable demands", and threatened a government with a "clean-up" if it did not comply.

Armed soldiers are patrolling the streets of the capital, Suva, and hundreds of reservists have been recalled for unscheduled exercises.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said last week that he was concerned the military planned to topple the government in the next couple of weeks.

Cmdr Bainimarama had been in Wellington on a private visit, but reportedly decided to delay his departure after New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters persuaded him to try to reach a diplomatic settlement with Mr Qarase.

Regional concern

Countries in the region are anxious to prevent another coup from taking place.

"New Zealand has been concerned for some time at the escalating tensions between the Fijian government and military," Mr Peters said in a joint statement with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Australia is gathering foreign ministers from across the Pacific for talks on the crisis later this week.

Both Australia and New Zealand have warned their citizens to avoid travelling to Fiji, and Australia has naval ships in the area, ready to evacuate people if necessary.




SEE ALSO
Profile: Fiji's military leader
24 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji army head warns of bloodshed
02 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Fears grow of Fiji military coup
01 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji meeting eases coup fears
16 Jan 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji leaders convicted over coup
05 Aug 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Fiji
10 Mar 03 |  Country profiles

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