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Page last updated at 03:22 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 04:22 UK

Outcast Fiji faces new sanctions

Frank Bainimarama, 9 April 2009 (image from Fijian government website)
Army chief Frank Bainimarama has strengthened his grip on power

Australia and New Zealand have warned the military chief of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, that he faces new trade and travel sanctions.

Mr Bainimarama was reinstated as prime minister last week in spite of a court ruling that his government was illegal.

Three foreign journalists were expelled after their coverage of the upheaval amid a new crackdown on Fiji's media.

Mr Bainimarama took power in a 2006 coup and has failed to fulfil promises to hold elections.

"We've effectively got a self-appointed dictator. It's now a very much less predictable place than it was," New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully told Radio New Zealand.

The curtailment of media access and freedom of speech and the disregard for judicial independence are especially worrying
Tuiloma Neroni Slade
Pacific Islands Forum

"We are seeing a very ugly side of the regime where they are clamping down on personal freedoms, media freedoms and there [is a] serious sense of a crackdown on the institutions and individuals who are defying the government," he added.

Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said it was "almost inevitable" Fiji would be ejected from regional groupings and the Commonwealth of former British-ruled nations.

Both ministers said the challenge was to find a way to target Mr Bainimarama and his allies without hurting the Fijian people, many of whom rely on the tourism industry.

Media hit

Veteran Pacific reporter Sean Dorney, from Australia's ABC, together with a reporter and cameraman from New Zealand's TV 3 network, were told by Fiji's information ministry they were to be deported, they said.

Late on Monday, a Fiji Television journalist was taken in for questioning, and Mr Dorney was driven to the airport accompanied by several soldiers, witnesses told AFP.

"The curtailment of media access and freedom of speech and, as already evident, the disregard for judicial independence are especially worrying," a statement by Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade said.

The forum earlier this year threatened to suspend Fiji from the grouping if it did not set a date by May for elections to be held before the end of the year.

Mr Bainimarama said on the weekend that there will not be democratic elections until 2014.



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