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Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 14:31 UK

Fiji's military tightens control

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

Security forces have occupied the central bank building in the Fijian capital, Suva, in a further sign of tightening military control.

There are also reports that the bank's governor has been sacked.

Military chief Frank Bainimarama was reinstated as PM last week in spite of a court ruling that his regime - which seized power in 2006 - was illegal.

Three foreign journalists were also expelled for their coverage of the upheaval, amid a wider media crackdown.

One of the three men, Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Sean Dorney, told the BBC that local journalists in Fiji were working under severe censorship regulations.

We are seeing a very ugly side of the regime where they are clamping down on personal freedoms
Murray McCully
New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister

The president of Fiji's Law Society has been detained and the courts remain closed since the president dissolved the constitution, dismissed judges and reappointed Mr Bainimarama.

In a statement on the government's website on Tuesday, Mr Bainimarama said the country would see many changes in the coming days and weeks "to benefit the country".

Mr Bainimarama insists his rule is legitimate, but has said there will not be democratic elections until 2014.

Growing isolation

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

"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.

Fiji President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, file pic
President Iloilo has been a staunch supporter of Frank Bainimarama

"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.

Last week, the Court of Appeal - Fiji's second highest court - ruled that the military government was illegally appointed after a 2006 coup, and that democracy should be returned as soon as possible.

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo responded by dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution - only to reinstate Frank Bainimarama as interim prime minister a day later.

The army uprising in December 2006 was the country's fourth coup in 20 years.

The military said it had been forced to remove a corrupt and racist administration led by ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

But critics of Commodore Bainimarama have accused him of being a "power-hungry dictator".



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SEE ALSO
Outcast Fiji faces new sanctions
14 Apr 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Democratic future fades for Fiji
13 Apr 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Media crackdown by Fiji military
13 Apr 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji coup leader restored as PM
11 Apr 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji coup regime ruled unlawful
09 Apr 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji leader defiant after threats
28 Jan 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Pacific leaders set Fiji deadline
27 Jan 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Deep divisions in post-coup Fiji
04 Dec 08 |  Asia-Pacific


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