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1987: Fiji one step closer to a republic

The Queen has accepted the resignation of the Governor-General of Fiji at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Vancouver.

Governor-General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau said there was nothing more he could do to prevent Fiji from becoming a republic following the military coup by Colonel Rambuka last month.

This ends the islands' 113 year British Crown sovereignty and, according to constitutional experts, a split with the Commonwealth is increasingly likely.

Queen's sadness

In a written statement the Queen accepted the resignation but expressed her sadness that the decision was made without the Fijian people's consultation.

Following the announcement at 1800 GMT, the former education minister from the deposed government, Dr Tupeni Baba, expressed his disappointment in Mr Ganilau's decision.

"We expected the Governor General to do the honourable thing, to hold on at least until the end of the conference," he said.

Since the recent coup Mr Ganilau has been under pressure to capitulate. His resignation message accepted that his efforts to "preserve constitutional government had proved in vain".

Colonel Rambuka is set to introduce constitutional reform, which would guarantee political dominance of 'indigenous' Melanesian Fijians over the larger ethnic Indian population.

Elections in April put a largely ethnic Indian coalition administration in power for the first time, reflecting the Indians' 53% majority in the Fijian population.

Many Pacific leaders have quietly endorsed Colonel Rambuka's plans, although his republic has yet to be internationally recognised.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Paias Wingti, suggested the political situation in Fiji was more complex than many people imagined.

"It's just like back in England. If you had 53% of the population becoming Indians and taking over England what would the English people think?"

In Context
The Fijian islands became a British Crown colony in 1874. Between 1879 and 1916 more than 60,000 indentured labourers were brought in from the Indian subcontinent to work on sugar plantations.

Since 1987 Fiji has faced international isolation and domestic instability and had a chequered history of inclusion and exclusion within the Commonwealth.

Despite anti-discriminatory measures aimed at reconciliation between the indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities, further political crises have harmed its economy and international reputation.

History repeated itself when armed nationalists headed by George Speight toppled the government of the Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, in 2000.

Democracy has been restored and the present government is once again a multi-racial coalition pledging national unity.


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