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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 November 2007, 09:39 GMT
Bainimarama defends Fiji arrests
Fiji leader Frank Bainimarama
Cmdr Bainimarama said security forces had foiled bloodshed
Fiji's military leader has defended the recent arrests of 16 people over an alleged plot to assassinate him.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama said the Pacific Island nation would have faced instability and bloodshed if troops and police had not acted to defend him.

Those arrested since the weekend include businessmen and politicians, as well as two New Zealand nationals.

Ten people now face charges including conspiracy to murder and inciting mutiny, legal officials said.

The wave of arrests has drawn international concern, with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark accusing Cmdr Bainimarama of trying to silence his critics.

The military leader seized power in a bloodless coup in late 2006, ousting Laisenia Qarase's democratically elected government. He has pledged to hold polls in 2009.

'Serious unrest'

Cmdr Bainimarama told reporters in the Fijian capital, Suva, that he felt "happy to be alive".

Police and the military had "uncovered a situation which, if not foiled, would have led to serious unrest, bloodshed and instability in Fiji", he said.

Map of Fiji
No concrete details have been given about the alleged plot, but Cmdr Bainimarama earlier blamed it on "disgruntled groups" affected by his anti-corruption drive.

Ten of the accused appeared in Suva Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, and were remanded in custody without entering pleas.

During the proceedings, prosecutors agreed to drop a charge of treason.

As Cmdr Bainimarama's regime is still the subject of a legal challenge questioning its legitimacy to govern, it was decided that the treason charge could not apply.

Cmdr Bainimarama played down earlier comments by Fiji's police commissioner, Esala Teleni, pointing to the involvement of "foreign governments", saying he regretted "sensational reporting of this matter".

"At no time have we directly implicated Australia or New Zealand in this foiled assassination plot," he said.

Both New Zealand and Australia have dismissed the suggestion they were involved with the alleged plot.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters the allegations were "completely absurd", while Mrs Clark described the claims as "wild statements".

Mrs Clark, meanwhile, said that diplomats had received no access to the detained New Zealanders.

Once of them, businessman Ballu Khan, was reported to have been badly beaten during his arrest.

SEE ALSO
Alleged plotters charged in Fiji
05 Nov 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji leader gives election pledge
17 Oct 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji military chief stages coup
05 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Fiji's military leader
05 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Background to Fiji's four coups
08 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Fiji
05 Oct 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Fiji
05 Oct 07 |  Country profiles

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