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UK Foreign Office Minister, John Battle
"There must be a question mark over membership of the Commonwealth"
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New Zealand Foreign Minister, Phil Goff
"The rule of law is overturned"
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Monday, 29 May, 2000, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
UK 'deeply worried' over Fiji takeover
Army police
The military have apparently taken over in Fiji
A military takeover in Fiji has been condemned as "deeply worrying" by the Foreign Office minister, John Battle.

He said Britain would attempt to contact the head of the armed forces, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who was quoted on Fiji Radio as saying the Pacific island would operate under his rule for the time being.

Rebel gunmen are still holding thirty hostages, including the former prime minister, in Fiji's parliament building in an attempted coup.

Mr Battle said the situation was in a state of flux but warned that respect for democracy "does now seem in jeopardy, sadly".

John Battle MP
John Battle: "Democracy in jeopardy"
His statement came shortly after the military had imposed a 48-hour curfew to restore order in the capital, Suva.

Mr Battle said: "It's deeply worrying. Things are not clear cut.

"We will be trying to get in touch with the military commander now to see if he really has sidelined the president," he told BBC Radio Four's The World at One.

Fate unclear

"I understand the need for law and order. Of course we want to see law and order, but dismissing and sidelining the president is not the way forward." he said.

The fate of President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was not immediately clear although his private secretary said military officials had informed him the president had resigned to enable the enforcement of martial law.

The takeover follows ten days of chaos after rebel leader George Speight took Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and members of his government hostage in protest at the involvement of ethnic Indians in Fiji's administration.

Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara: Stepped down?
Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara: Position uncertain
Mr Battle again warned that there could be serious consequences for Fiji's relationship with the rest of the Commonwealth and with the international community.

"Fiji has been down this road before in 1987 and was locked out of the Commonwealth for 10 years (after an earlier coup) and paid a very high price.

"At the end of the day, if Fiji goes against democracy, then there are a whole range of options that would leave Fiji isolated in terms of trade, in terms of aid, in terms of politics. Fiji would pay a high price."

Earlier, the UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said he had discussed the situation with President Mara and with the Commonwealth Secretary General, Don McKinnon.

He said he had appealed to the president not to yield to armed force and to uphold the rule of law.

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See also:

28 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Policeman killed by Fiji rebels
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Who is Fiji's coup leader?
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Ethnic split haunts Fijian politics
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