Thu, Dec 07, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Fijian coup leader sacks police chief, scraps parliament

AGENCIES , SUVA

Fiji's military ruler yesterday formally dissolved parliament and sacked his police chief and prisons commissioner a day after seizing power in a coup.

Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama told reporters he was dissolving parliament on the advice of his just sworn-in caretaker prime minister and sacked law and order officials who would not cooperate with his regime.

Bainimarama named Lieutenant Colonel Jim Koroi as acting commissioner of police to replace Moses Driver, who slammed Tuesday's military takeover as illegal and unconstitutional and vowed the police would have no part in it.

He warned yesterday that troops would quickly suppress any uprising, as the country's deposed prime minister called for non-violent protests after Fiji was hit by its fourth coup in 20 years.

"We have reasonable grounds to believe that the life of the state is being threatened," Bainimarama told a news conference after declaring a state of emergency.

"Should we be pushed to use force, let me state that we will do so very quickly. The military will suppress very quickly any uprising against us," he said.

Bainimarama staged a bloodless coup on Tuesday after a year-long power struggle with Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, whom he accuses of being too soft on those responsible for Fiji's last coup in 2000. Qarase, under military escort, was flown back to his island home yesterday.

Qarase has called on Fijians to stand up for democracy and expects non-violent demonstrations against the military within days. Hundreds of Fijians rallied outside Qarase's Suva home after the coup on Tuesday.

"My assessment is that about 99 percent of our population wants democracy. The will of the people ... is stronger than the power of the gun," he told Australian radio.

Australia and New Zealand have called on Fijians to restore democracy to Fiji.

"I think the ordinary people of Fiji and the institutions of government in Fiji should show passive resistance to this imposition of dictatorship on their country," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told the Australian parliament.

As domestic and international support swung behind Qarase, soldiers began detaining key public servants and then moved into the parliamentary complex and interrupted a Senate session as it debated a motion condemning the takeover.

In a Ministry of Information statement, the state of emergency authorized cordons around Suva, possible curfews and the return of reservists to camp "to take the country towards good governance, rid us of corruption and bad practices."

Bainimarama has appointed a caretaker prime minister and said an interim administration would prepare Fiji for fresh elections, but has given no timetable.

The military takeover has been condemned around the world and is expected to have a catastrophic effect on Fiji's delicate economy, which is based on tourism and an outdated sugar industry.

Fiji's three earlier coups devastated the economy.

Fearful of a currency run, Fiji's central bank tightened foreign exchange transactions, Fiji media said.

The bank said last month that political uncertainty in Fiji had "seriously undermined efforts to stabilize the economy, let alone pursue further growth," Fiji media reported.

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