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Last Updated: Friday, 1 December 2006, 06:07 GMT
Calm as Fiji coup deadline passes
Heavily armed Fijian troops
Troops returned to their barracks as the deadline passed
A 24-hour deadline for avoiding a military takeover in Fiji set by army chief Cmdr Frank Bainimarama has passed without incident.

The Fijian capital Suva remained tense but calm on Friday as 1200 (0000GMT) brought no major troop movements.

Cmdr Bainimarama had threatened to stage a coup after accusing PM Laisenia Qarase of stalling on a pledge to scrap controversial legislation.

Fiji has been tense for weeks amid a stand-off between the two men.

On Friday Cmdr Bainimarama attended an annual sporting event between the police and military at the national stadium in Suva.

"I maintain my demands and the deadline still stands and I will make a commitment to my stand after the rugby match," he told Fijian media.

"When I will do something, I will let the people know," he said.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Qarase told Reuters news agency: "The deadline has now passed. I have been informed that the new deadline is Monday midday."

However, there has been no word from Cmdr Bainimarama on a new deadline.

Divine intervention

Earlier Mr Qarase urged Fijians to "stand up" and oppose the military's threats while adding that he and his cabinet ministers had gone into hiding.

"People of Fiji do not want a dictator. We want democracy," he said on national radio.

In an interview with ABC radio, he said he was not intimidated as Cmdr Bainimarama "had given many deadlines before".

FIJI TENSIONS TIMELINE
map
2000 Brief coup put down by army chief Bainimarama
12 July 2005 Cmdr Bainimarama warns he will topple government if it pardons jailed coup plotters
13 July 2005 PM Laisenia Qarase says he will review law pardoning plotters
17 May 2006 Mr Qarase wins re-election
31 Oct Mr Qarase tries - and fails - to replace Cmdr Bainimarama as army chief
4 November Mr Qarase says he will change law offering clemency to coup plotters
7 November Military calls for police chief to quit
30 November Mr Qarase offers "concessions" after meeting Cmdr Bainimarama
30 November Cmdr Bainimarama warns of coup if demands not met

"Nobody knows what he wants," he told Fijian radio.

"We are just keeping our fingers crossed that he won't go ahead. He has got all the firepower and the rest of the population has got nothing," he added.

Mr Qarase also said he was relying on divine intervention to prevent a coup, adding "God works in mysterious ways, and he might be working on it now".

Cmdr Bainimarama had earlier met with President Ratu Josefa Iloilo for around 40 minutes although no announcement was made.

As the deadline set for the coup passed, Pacific Islands Forum foreign ministers met in Sydney to discuss the crisis.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said it would show Cmdr Bainimarama they wanted respect for the rule of law and democracy.

"Every effort has been made to try to conciliate him and try to talk him out of mounting a coup," he told ABC radio.

"But I must say, he has shown scant interest in drawing back from his plans," he added.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark added that it was unclear what Cmdr Bainimarama's demands were.

"Unless we assume he himself wants total power over Fiji," she said, in which case she pointed out "that is something the international community is not going to accept."

The military has warned foreign countries against intervening in Fiji.

Military exercises

Cmdr Bainimarama met Prime Minister Qarase for talks in New Zealand on Wednesday but the two men appear divided over the outcome of the meeting.

Cmdr Frank Bainimarama
Cmdr Bainimarama appears unwilling to compromise

Mr Qarase said he was prepared to review - and eventually abandon - the laws that have provoked Cmdr Bainimarama.

But the military chief dismissed the meeting as a "failure" and questioned Mr Qarase's readiness to act on his pledge.

Cmdr Bainimarama objects to legislation put forward by the prime minister that offers a pardon to people involved in the 2000 coup and allocates the ownership of coastal land to ethnic Fijians.

The current military chief was a target of the 2000 coup, a short-lived attempt to install a government of ethnic Fijians.

Fijians have been buying emergency supplies of food and withdrawing money from banks, amid fears a military coup could bring chaos and closures.

On Wednesday, the military performed overnight exercises in the capital, Suva, stoking speculation that a coup was imminent.




SEE ALSO
Fiji army head sets coup deadline
30 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Anxious times for frustrated Fijians
29 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Fiji's military leader
24 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Fiji
07 Nov 06 |  Country profiles



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