Fiji Military Coup possibly underway

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Monday, December 4, 2006

Fiji’s fourth coup in 20 years rose today as troops disarmed Fiji's only armed police unit. This is the first step in the long expected military coup.

Fiji's president dissolved parliament on Tuesday and sanctioned the military to remove embattled Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, said New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark

Qarase, who is in his residence in Suva, said the military was staging a coup and he would not resign but would have to be forcibly removed from office.

"I am not going anywhere," Qarase told Reuters.

"I am the democratically elected prime minister of the people of Fiji. They will have to move me by force."

"I have been advised this morning that the president of Fiji has acted outside his constitutional powers and supported the removal of the democratic prime minister by the military," Clark said in a statement to the New Zealand parliament.

Acting Police Commissioner Moses Driver denied that any take over had occurred. He said soldiers arrived to inspect police weapons, and were waiting for approval for that inspection. Troops later surrounding the Nasova Police Academy in Suva demanding the handover of weapons, and occupied the main police station in Suva. No shots were fired when the police were locked out.

At a news conference inside the main Suva barracks, Commander Frank Bainimarama said that police weapons were confiscated so that "dissidents" did not use them against the military.

There are also reports that military checkpoints are been set up around the capital. There are approximately four roadblocks with 20 soliders at each.

Troops tried to arrest the Prime Minister of Fiji, Laisenia Qarase, in the afternoon by setting up a roadblock between Suva and the province where Mr Qarase was attending a meeting, but he escaped in a helicopter, and has since been in hiding. The Prime Minister and his cabinet are understood to be in safe, secure places, and some of them separated for extra security.

The army kept up the pressure on Mr Qarase when he was later summoned to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo's residence.

Mr Qarase drove to the estate, but was told by soldiers at a roadblock outside that he would have to walk the rest of the way. A witness inside the grounds said the prime minister, whose bodyguards were also disarmed by the military, refused and returned to his office.

Mr Qarase will make another attempt to meet President Iloilo on Tuesday morning.

Military chief Commander Frank Bainimarama had repeatedly threatened to remove Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's government unless it drops several pieces of legislation, including a bill that would grant amnesty to those involved in a coup in 2000. Commander Bainimarama has laid allegations on PM Qarase of stalling his pledge of ditching of the controversial legislation.

However Bainimarama is denying a coup is under way. "This is not a coup," Bainimarama said today. "Everything is normal. Nothing is going on."

He had earlier imposed a deadline of noon (0000GMT) on Friday, December 1 but that deadline was extended to today as there was the annual rugby game between the police and the military. Commander Bainimarama is both an avid rugby fan and active church goer. The police won the rugby game. "I maintain my demands and the deadline still stands and I will make a commitment to my stand after the rugby match," he said.

Mr Qarase told Fiji radio on Monday morning that he remained in control and has called an emergency cabinet meeting for Tuesday.

Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs called for calm on Monday and for the military to return to negotiations with the government.

Local radio reported seven government vehicles used by ministers and parliament's Speaker had been confiscated by the military since Monday night.

World leaders have commended Commander Bainimarama actions. Including New Zealand which has banned Commander Bainimarama from entering New Zealand except if he is attending political crises talks. Helen Clark described the situation as "...it's a very disturbing situation." Some of Commander Bainimarama's close family live in New Zealand.

Conditions on the street of Fiji are said to be mixed, with some apprehension.

The United Nations might discontinue use of Fijian soldiers in peacekeeping operations of which is a large source of Fiji's income. Also the British army might not use Fijian soldiers. The International Community have said they will discontinue aid to Fiji which is worth millions annually.

Past Fijian coups

Fiji has suffered three coups since 1987.

On the morning of May 14, 1987, 10 masked, armed soldiers entered the House of Representatives.

Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, dressed in civilian clothes and motivated by claims of racial discrimination against ethnic Fijians, approached Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra from the public gallery and ordered MPs to leave.

The bloodless coup was a success but subsequent talks proposed a government of national unity under the leadership of the governor-general, involving both the deposed government and the indigenous-supported Alliance Party.

Fearing the gains of the first coup would be lost, Mr Rabuka staged a second coup on September 25 that year.

This time he severed ties with the British monarchy, who held the title Queen of Fiji (Ilisapeci-Na Radi ni Viti kei Peritania, or interpreted Elizabeth- Queen of Fiji and Great Britain) and proclaimed a republic.

A new constitution ratified in 1990 guaranteed indigenous Fijians the offices of President and Prime Minister, along with two-thirds of the Senate and a substantial majority of the House of Representatives.

But these provisions were overturned by a constitutional review in 1997.

Hardline Fijian nationalists led by bankrupt businessman George Speight led a further coup in May, 2000, when they overthrew the nation's first Indo-Fijian prime minister Mahendra Chaudry, holding him hostage inside parliament for eight weeks along with most of his cabinet and many MPs and their staff.

Mr Speight declared himself Prime Minister, and ordered the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to step aside as president. Mr Mara refused to negotiate with the plotters, and decided instead to dismiss the kidnapped government and assume emergency powers himself. His move backfired, however. In what politicians called "a coup within a coup," Ratu Mara was whisked away on the naval ship Kiro on 28 May, where he was allegedly approached by a group of present and former military and police officers and ordered to suspend the Constitution. When he refused, ("If the Constitution goes, I go," he defiantly declared) the group, are alleged to have asked for, and possibly forced, Mara's resignation.

Frank Bainimarama then declared martial law, abrogated the constitution and set up an interim government.

Commander Bainimarama was almost killed in a failed, bloody mutiny linked to the 2000 coup on the 2 November that year, when rebel soldiers mutinied at Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks. The mutiny resulted in the death of four loyal soldiers, and blames Mr Qarase for being soft on those behind it.

He appointed Laisenia Qarase as prime minister before handing power to an interim administration headed by Ratu Josefa Iloilo as President.

Mr Speight was arrested on July 27 along with 369 supporters.

The government reneged on an agreement granting Speight immunity from prosecution, Commander Bainimarama saying the military had signed it "under duress".

Mr Speight remains in prison on an island off Suva.

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