Thu, Nov 02, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Fijian PM emphatically says he will not resign

AFP , SUVA

Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said yesterday he would not quit amid a standoff with the military which has raised fears of a coup in the Pacific island nation.

"I declare emphatically that there is absolutely no question of me resigning in response to the situation or of my government standing down," Qarase said in an address to the nation.

Qarase was speaking for the first time since top military brass rejected a government decision Tuesday to replace outspoken commander Voreqe Bainimarama, who has repeatedly said he was ready to force the government to resign.

Qarase also warned that any attempt by the military to overthrow the government could lead to international intervention.

"The international community is now more proactive in protecting democratically elected governments when the rule of law and its constitutionality are threatened or overturned," he said.

"Our international friends are coming out very strongly in support of the maintenance of democracy and constitutional rule in Fiji," he added.

He said the governments of Australia, New Zealand and the US had expressed strong support for his government.

The Pacific Islands Forum, of which Australia and New Zealand are members, has an agreement allowing for intervention by other forum members at the invitation of the government, he added.

He said the military should be aware of the "catastrophic consequences" of the threats they were making against the government.

However, Qarase also opened the door for renewed dialogue with the armed forces, saying he was ready to engage in further discussion with Bainimarama on issues of concern to the military.

"I will take part in such dialogue with an open mind with a view of finding resolutions that serve the best interests of Fiji," he said.

But he added the military remained under the control of the democratically elected government and the rule of law must prevail.

"I remain confident that sound judgment and wisdom will prevail about the over-riding importance of the rule of law," he said.

"I call on the churches and people to pray for our country. Let us show the world we have the ability and the will to solve our internal difficulties as we have done before," he continued.

Bainimarama, who is currently in the Middle East inspecting Fijian troops, has repeatedly threatened Qarase's government, but tensions soared on Tuesday when the military rejected the government's decision to replace the commander.

The military chief and Qarase have long been at loggerheads over planned legislation to allow amnesties for plotters of the 2000 coup.

The military chief, who came close to losing his life in a mutiny, last year threatened to overthrow the government if it passed the amnesty law.

The 2000 coup overthrew the government of the country's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry. The first of two military coups in 1987 also removed an Indian-dominated government.

Ethnic Indians make up an estimated 37 percent of Fiji's population of 900,000.

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