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Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 11:37 UK

Fiji constitution plan unveiled

Fiji's military commander Frank Bainimarama (December 2006)
Frank Bainimarama said all citizens would be equal under the new charter

Fiji will have a new constitution in 2013 that scraps the ethnic-based system introduced in 1997, the country's military ruler has said.

Unveiling his "roadmap" for a return to democracy, Commodore Frank Bainimarama said elections would be held in 2014.

He took power in a coup in 2006 and since then Fiji has suspended the constitution, detained opponents and suppressed freedom of speech.

International groupings, including the UN, have called for speedier elections.

Fiji has been suspended from the regional Pacific Islands Forum and is expected to face similar action from the Commonwealth after promised elections earlier this year were not held.

'Totally unacceptable'

Australia rejected Mr Bainimarama's appeal for "engagement" from the international community on his new charter, labelling it "totally unacceptable".

"He continues to ignore the calls of the international community for Fiji to return to democracy as soon as possible," said Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

Mr Bainimarama said work on the new constitution would start in 2012 and be finished the following year.

It would abolish the system in which Fiji's majority indigenous population and minority Indians vote for candidates of their own ethnicity, he said.

"The new constitution must include provisions that will entrench common and equal citizenry, it must not have ethnic-based voting," he said.

Mr Bainimarama promised to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18, and to hold reviews on the number of seats in the parliament and the need for a senate.

He also pledged an overhaul of the country's complex system of land tenure, in which indigenous Fijians own 90% of the land.



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