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Last Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006, 10:10 GMT
Fiji army moves to control Suva
Fijian soldier outside the Police Tactical Response headquarters in Suva on 4 December 2006
Soldiers have taken up position outside key bases
Fiji's military has moved to take control of the capital, Suva, amid speculation an army coup was imminent.

Troops disarmed the police and ministerial bodyguards and set up roadblocks around Suva.

Military chief Cmdr Frank Bainimarama refused to say if a coup was under way but said the moves were aimed at preventing any outbreak of violence.

He has repeatedly threatened to unseat PM Laisenia Qarase over plans to grant amnesty to those behind a coup in 2000.

Disarmed

Truckloads of heavily-armed soldiers were seen leaving the army's barracks in Suva.

They were putting up roadblocks around the capital during the night, and had reportedly cut off several roads into the city.

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
1 December Deadline set for possible coup passes without incident

Earlier, troops arrived at the headquarters of the country's only armed police unit, the Tactical Response Unit, outside Suva.

They loaded weapons belonging to police on to army trucks and took them away.

Troops also went to a police armoury in the city to remove more weapons.

Bodyguards for the prime minister and other ministers were also disarmed.

Cmdr Bainimarama told reporters his troops had taken weapons off the police "to ensure that police weapons are not used against the military".

But he insisted the police still had a role to play. "The police and the (military) will work together to ensure the security and safety of all the people of Fiji," he said in a brief statement.

The move was called "unlawful and unnecessary" by acting police commissioner Moses Driver.

Cmdr Bainimarama gave no indication whether a coup was under way during his statement to reporters, despite local media reports that he has drawn up a 13-member interim cabinet.

When asked who was running the country, he replied: "I don't have any comments right now".

He originally gave the government until last Friday to resign or face Fiji's fourth army takeover in two decades.

In a TV interview at the weekend, he said he expected the prime minister to "give in peacefully" and leave office on Monday.

Prime Minister Qarase remained defiant on Monday, insisting he was still in charge. He said he had called a special cabinet meeting on Tuesday to consider Cmdr Bainimarama's "latest and ever-changing demands".

Ongoing feud

Australia and New Zealand have warned of dire economic and social consequences if the military deposes Fiji's elected government.

"It is clear Fiji is on the brink of a coup," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told his parliament.

Fiji's Commodore Frank Bainimarama (left) and Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase
The army chief and PM have been at loggerheads for months

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark warned Cmdr Bainimarama that sanctions would follow any coup, including a possible travel ban to New Zealand where he has family.

The feud between the prime minister and the army chief goes back several months.

It relates to legislation that Mr Qarase is seeking to pass, which offers a pardon to people involved in the 2000 racially-motivated coup and allocates the ownership of coastal land to ethnic Fijians.

Cmdr Bainimarama played a key role in putting down the uprising and was at one point forced to flee for his life.

He has made it clear that he does not feel the government has done enough to bring its perpetrators to justice.


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SEE ALSO
Fiji's army head warns of action
03 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji PM returns amid coup fears
02 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Anxious times for frustrated Fijians
30 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji army head sets coup deadline
30 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Fiji's military leader
24 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Fiji
01 Dec 06 |  Country profiles



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