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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 15:23 GMT
Fiji military coup is denounced
Fiji's military commander Frank Bainimarama
Cmdr Bainimarama said the government was corrupt
The military coup in Fiji has brought international condemnation, with Commonwealth nations saying suspension from the group is highly likely.

Military commander Frank Bainimarama has seized control of the country, marking the fourth coup in two decades.

Britain reacted by suspending military aid, and New Zealand called the development an "outrage".

Commodore Bainimarama has dismissed PM Laisenia Qarase, who said the army had brought "shame to the country".

Cmdr Bainimarama accused the prime minister of corruption and leading Fiji on a path of doom.

The two have long been in dispute, largely over the commodore's opposition to a proposed amnesty for those responsible for a 2000 coup he helped put down.

'Tragic setback'

Fiji's police force, elected officials and media joined international powers in condemning the coup.

I urge all citizens to remain calm, and maintain the peace that currently prevails
Cmdr Bainimarama

Don McKinnon, secretary general of the 53-nation Commonwealth grouping, said he "deplored" the coup, adding: "The likelihood of Fiji being suspended is very high."

Foreign ministers from nations within the Commonwealth Secretariat will meet in London this week to make a decision.

Australia and New Zealand have called for economic sanctions, and Commonwealth officials said that matter would also be discussed.

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

New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clark, said it was "an outrage what is happening in Fiji" and that Cmdr Bainimarama had "taken leave of his senses".

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the coup was a "tragic setback for democracy in Fiji".

Mr Howard said he had turned down a request from Mr Qarase to send troops to prevent the coup.

"The possibility of Australian and Fijian troops firing on each other in the streets of Suva was not a prospect that I for a moment thought desirable," Mr Howard said.

Cmdr Bainimarama named a doctor, Jona Senilagakali, as caretaker prime minister, and said that next week he would ask the Great Council of Chiefs to restore executive powers to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

The president would then appoint an interim government and elections would follow at an unspecified date, the military chief said.

But Mr Qarase said: "The government they want to set up will be totally illegal.

"What the military has done is raped our constitution."

Ethnic tension

Cmdr Bainimarama said Fiji had reached a "crossroads" and that the government had been "unable to make decisions to save our people from destruction".

He warned that more troops would be seen on the streets but said there was no curfew, and urged the population not to be intimidated. The capital is largely calm.

Bainimarama is a man with power and intelligence who is not joining hands with the corrupt but is going against them to help the people of Fiji
Trot, Suva

Cmdr Bainimarama said the prime minister had created tension in the army by trying to have him removed.

Fiji's police chief, Andrew Hughes, who is on leave in Australia, said he could "foresee a popular uprising".

"[Bainimarama] doesn't have the support of the government, of the president, of the police, of the churches, of the chiefs, of the people of Fiji," he said.

Fiji's largest daily newspaper, the Fiji Times, said it was suspending publication rather than accept censorship.

Fiji has a population of only 900,000 but is a major tourist destination and attracts up to 400,000 visitors a year.

It has also witnessed considerable political tension over the past 20 years between ethnic Fijians, who make up about 50% of the population and ethnic Indians at around 44%.

The BBC's Phil Mercer in Suva says some Fijians believe the army is taking the right action and insist the government was corrupt and was discriminating against the Indian minority.

But critics of the move, he says, insist that what Cmdr Bainimarama wants is to establish a military dictatorship in the south Pacific.

Such an outcome would add to the concerns of Australia and New Zealand about political instability in the wider Pacific islands region.

Australia and New Zealand condemn coup in Fiji

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