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Australia and NZ expel Fijians

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

Australia and New Zealand have expelled Fiji's top envoys.

The two countries announced the expulsions a day after Fiji said it would expel their senior diplomats.

Fiji's military leader Frank Bainimarama had alleged the two regional powers had been interfering in Fiji's judiciary.

Commodore Bainimarama sacked the entire judiciary in April when it judged his rule was illegal. He has been trying to replace it with Sri Lankan judges.

Australia and New Zealand have long-standing travel bans on all senior members of the Fiji government, which came to power in a 2006 coup.

'Ups and downs'

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said he was "deeply disappointed" at Fiji and rejected claims of meddling in Fiji's affairs.

"This excuse is neither warranted, reasonable nor justified and regrettably it takes Fiji's relationship with Australia, Fiji's relationship with New Zealand... the Pacific Islands Forum and... the international community backwards," Smith told reporters in Perth.

New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully said Fiji's acting head of mission, Kuliniasi Seru Savou, had been ordered out of the country in response to Suva's expulsion of top diplomat Todd Cleaver.

"Diplomatic relations with Fiji are roughly the same they have been for the last couple of years unfortunately," Mr McCully told reporters in Wellington.

"We have had our ups and downs and unfortunately today they are down."

We have taken a deliberately hard-line approach to this regime because we do not want this coup culture to spread elsewhere in the Pacific
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Cmdr Bainimarama accused Australia and New Zealand of attacking Fiji's judiciary over alleged attempts to block judges. He said the heads of their diplomatic missions were waging "a negative campaign against the government and people of Fiji".

Coup culture

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Australia would maintain a tough stance on Fiji to prevent its "coup culture" - including four power grabs over two decades - from spreading around the Pacific.

"The Fijian regime... has violated the constitution, he has refused to hold elections, and he's suspended the judiciary," Mr Rudd told public broadcaster ABC.

"And so therefore we have taken a deliberately hard-line approach to this regime because we do not want this coup culture to spread elsewhere in the Pacific."

It is the third time New Zealand's top envoy to Fiji has been expelled since the 2006 coup but the first expulsion of Australia's senior diplomat.

Fiji and New Zealand kicked out each other's ambassadors last December, and in 2007 New Zealand high commissioner Michael Green was expelled after Fiji accused him of interfering in local politics.

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



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