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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 11:57 GMT
Fijians divided over coup outlook
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Suva

Fiji's Commodore Frank Bainimarama
Cmdr Bainimarama urged Fijians to "remain calm"
Fiji's coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama sees himself as the great protector of his country's multiculturalism.

He has led his South Pacific nation to its 4th coup in 20 years in the name of equal rights.

The army chief accused the deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase of pursuing policies that would have benefited the indigenous majority at the expense of the ethnic Indian community.

Their ancestors were brought to work on colonial sugar plantations by the British in the 19th century.

I like his views because the country is falling down
Suva schoolboy

Most never looked back, and Indian endeavour has been the engine room of the Fijian economy. Ethnic Indians now make up roughly 40% of the population.

This coup will send us another 20 years back
Harun Shah
hospital employee

The Qarase administration proposed contentious bills that would have granted amnesties to those involved in a racially-motivated uprising in 2000.

It also wanted to grant indigenous Fijians greater land and sea rights that could well have disadvantaged the ethnic Indian minority.

Ethnic Indian support

The army commander - who himself is ethnic Fijian - said such plans were divisive.

Soldiers man a roadblock
Manned road blocks are in place around the capital, Suva

They clearly ran against his view of what modern, multiracial Fiji should be.

The commander has insisted that his goal was to establish a government that stood for all citizens of Fiji.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that the maverick army chief has strong support among sections of the ethnic Indian community.

"I like his views because the country is falling down," said one schoolboy in Suva.

Other ethnic Indians have accused Mr Qarase of being racist.

"He's not looking through both eyes," said Govand Lal, a former police officer who now drives a taxi in Suva.

"He's just looking through one eye. He just gives help to the Fijian people and there's no help for the Indians," he insisted.

Despair

Not everyone is so supportive of the military.

While it is impossible to gauge just how much backing the army men have, it is likely that the vast majority of the population will be feeling a sense of despair at the dismantling of democracy.

FIJI TENSIONS TIMELINE
map
2000: Brief coup put down by army chief Bainimarama
July 2005: Bainimarama warns he will topple government if it pardons jailed coup plotters
May 2006: PM Laisenia Qarase wins re-election
31 Oct: Qarase tries - and fails - to replace Bainimarama
November: Qarase says he will change law offering clemency to coup plotters - Bainimarama warns of coup
5 Dec: Military declares coup

Many Fijians from all backgrounds will remember 5 December 2006 as another depressing day in their country's tumultuous political history.

At Suva's main market, an indigenous mother-of-three feared there would be a repeat of the damage caused by the May 2000 coup led by a failed businessman, George Speight.

"I know what we went through after the last coup. The children didn't go to school, the prices of goods went up, our husbands' pay was cut off. We don't want to go through that again," she recalled gloomily.

Harun Shah, who works at a psychiatric hospital, had overheard and gave his thoughts.

"If it [Speight's rebellion] hadn't happened I think Fiji would have been far more advanced than what it is now," he said.

"This [the latest] coup will send us another 20 years back."

International condemnation

There are signs that the fragile economy has already been affected.

Human rights campaigner Virislia Buadromo told the BBC that vital sectors have already been damaged.

"The tourism industry has already been hit. It was affected a few weeks ago as soon as these threats started," she said.

This idyllic South Pacific archipelago is once again facing international condemnation.

Australia said it was a "tragic setback" for democracy.

New Zealand, a country that traditionally has great empathy for its island neighbours, is also worried about Fiji's future.

Virislia Buadromo believes the military coup had bred a new dictator.

"We have got ourselves into the coup cycle," she said.

"And I'm sorry to say we're going to end up like countries like Pakistan and Nigeria and Bainimarama's going to be known as someone like (Pakistan's President ) Musharraf."




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Fijian PM speaking as troops gather outside his home



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