Page last updated at 06:16 GMT, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Fiji leader defiant after threats

Frank Bainimarama, file image
Frank Bainimarama did not attend the meeting in Port Moresby

Fiji's leader has expressed defiance, a day after the Pacific Islands Forum threatened it with expulsion if no elections were held by the end of 2009.

In an interview with the New Zealand-based Hindi-language Radio Tarana, Frank Bainimarama said he felt under no pressure to set a date for elections.

He described New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, as being very rude and uninformed.

Mr Bainimarama took control of Fiji in a military coup in 2006.

The Pacific Islands Forum met on Tuesday and agreed that if Fiji did not announce an election date by the start of May, and hold elections by the end of the year, it would face sanctions by the regional grouping, including a loss of development funding.

'Declaration of war'

In the interview, Mr Bainimarama said the forum should not hold its breath waiting for instant action.

I have never come across a situation where a country gives an ultimatum to another country unless, of course, there is a declaration of war
Frank Bainimarama, military ruler, Fiji

"It is going to be a long wait. We have already given our explanation, right now I don't think we need to explain anymore," Mr Bainimarama said in the interview, repeating his comment that elections could take up to 10 years.

He described the summit's ultimatum as unprecedented.

"I have never come across a situation where a country gives an ultimatum to another country unless, of course, there is a declaration of war", he told Radio Tarana.

He also singled out New Zealand's prime minister for criticism.

"I don't think, from the explanation that was given to me by the attorney general, that [John Key] completely understands what is happening in Fiji because during the discussion yesterday he was very rude to the attorney general - he was very personal in his questions to him," he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Key was reported in New Zealand media as saying he was not available for comment.


Fiji's attorney general Aiyaz Saiyed Khaiyum has said Fiji was not in crisis.

"You have a government in place that's been held to be legally and validly appointed by His Excellency our president [by] a three member panel of the High Court. So we do not understand what the crisis is," Radio New Zealand quoted him as saying.

The country wanted "long-term and sustainable" democracy which "seems lost on some people", Radio New Zealand reported.

Fiji's deposed former leader Laisenia Qarase said the ultimatum was unlikely to persuade Mr Bainimarama to change his position.

Mr Bainimarama "has become addicted to political power... he likes the power and that is why I feel it will be very unlikely that he will hold elections by the end of the year", Mr Qarase said.

Academics based outside Fiji concurred, saying the military man was not the sort of person to react well to outside pressures.

'Unaccountable government'

Meanwhile, the publisher of the Fiji Times expelled this week from Fiji, Rex Gardner, criticised his deportation.

"They're acting with somewhat of a bunker mentality at the moment and I think some of the actions are a little irrational and I think my deportation is one of those such actions," said Mr Gardner in an interview with the Australia (TV) Network.

"We in the media feel [Fiji's military-backed leaders] are not accountable, they're not transparent in any way, they don't get called to account."

Mr Gardner was the third foreign publisher to have been deported from Fiji in the past year.

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