Page last updated at 09:05 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 10:05 UK

Fiji leader defies democracy call

Frank Bainimarama, 9 April 2009 (image from Fijian government website)
Frank Bainimarama says he alone will set the timetable for elections

Fiji's military leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has defied international demands for a return to democracy.

Pacific nations had set a deadline of 1 May for him to announce a date for elections this year, or be suspended from a key regional forum.

But the Fijian leader said he would not be rushed into holding elections, and that democracy would not be restored for at least another five years.

Commodore Bainimarama overthrew Fiji's elected government in a 2006 coup.

He said he wanted to end the perceived discrimination by ethnic Fijians against the island's large ethnic Indian minority.

But Australia and New Zealand have accused him of running a military dictatorship.

They have been at the forefront of the group of Pacific nations calling for the restoration of democracy in Fiji, a demand echoed by the United Nations.

'Immediate trigger'

The Pacific Islands Forum, a 16-nation regional grouping, had given Fiji until the end of Friday to announce a 2009 election date or be ousted from its number.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully told reporters there would be "an immediate trigger" for Fiji's suspension as soon as midnight passed.

Under the suspension, Fiji will lose out on development funding and be barred from regional meetings.

You've got a dictator up there now who doesn't want to listen to anybody else other than himself
New Zealand PM John Key

But speaking to the Australian media, Commodore Bainimarama remained defiant.

"There will be no elections until September 2014," he in an Australian TV interview broadcast on Friday.

Commodore Bainimarama also called for an urgent meeting with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

"They need to understand, there are a hell of a lot of changes we need to come up with before we have an election, and it's not an overnight thing," he said.

'Draconian measures'

Neither Australia or New Zealand appear to be in a mood for negotiations though.

"What they need to do in Fiji is announce a timetable for elections, which is reasonable, which is within the immediately foreseeable future, not off in the total never-never, in order for us to begin to contemplate any form of normality in our relations with the Fijian military government," Mr Rudd told Australian media.

"You've got a dictator up there now who doesn't want to listen to anybody else other than himself," Mr Key added.

The crisis in Fiji has escalated in recent weeks, after a court ruled that Commodore Bainimarama's 2006 coup was illegal.

Two days later the president reappointed him as interim prime minister, and Commodore Bainimarama immediately imposed emergency restrictions, including sending troops and police into media offices to quash resistance to his reforms.

The Fijian leader said on Friday that these restrictions would be extended further.

Human rights groups have spoken of a climate of fear under the newly-reappointed military regime, because of what they say are "draconian measures".

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