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Fiji bars NZ and Australia envoys

Commodore Frank Bainimarama - December 2006
Commodore Frank Bainimarama took power in a 2006 coup

Fiji has ordered the envoys of New Zealand and Australia, its two biggest neighbours, to leave within 24 hours.

The country's military ruler, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, has accused the two countries of interfering in Fiji's internal affairs.

The row stems from his attempt to hire Sri Lankan judges to replace the local judiciary he sacked in April.

Cmdr Bainimarama took power in a coup in 2006 and sacked the judiciary after a court said his rule was illegal.

Comprehensive censorship was imposed and many civil servants were also dismissed in April.

'Negative campaign'

"I have told the minister of foreign affairs to issue communications to the Australian and New Zealand governments that their respective heads of missions are to be recalled within 24 hours," Mr Bainimarama said in a televised address.

"I have also informed them our high commissioner (ambassador) in Australia is to be recalled with immediate effect," he said.

"They misinform Canberra and Wellington and wage a negative campaign against the government and people of Fiji," he said.

Both Australia and New Zealand already have travel bans in place against senior officials in the military-run government in Fiji.

Earlier this week, Fiji accused Australia and New Zealand of exerting pressure on the Sri Lankan judges to reconsider their move, and of denying them transit visas for their outward journey to Suva.

Australia has denied this, says the the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney.

Australia acknowledges that it did advise the judges that once they took up their positions in Fiji they would be subject to the same travel bans as other members of the military regime, our correspondent says.

The Commonwealth suspended Fiji in September after the nation failed to meet a deadline for opening talks on a return to democracy.

Australia and New Zealand have urged Fiji to hold elections by next year, but Cmdr Bainimarama has said elections would not be held before 2014.

Fiji has had four coups and a bloody military mutiny since 1987.



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