Fri, Nov 03, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Fiji PM squashes coup rumors

CONFLICT Qarase said that the security situation was normal despite military chief Voreqe Bainimarama's threat of bloodshed if the prime minister did not step down


Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase addresses a press conference following an emergency Cabinet meeting in Suva on Wednesday.


Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase yesterday played down prospects of a coup after the military commander warned the Pacific island nation could be heading towards "bloodshed."

"It will not happen, the security situation is normal," Qarase told Radio New Zealand. "Indications are good that security is normal and there is no intention of staging a coup."

Qarase said he would meet the acting military commander and another senior officer for talks later yesterday.

Military chief Voreqe Bainimarama, who is out of the country inspecting troops taking part in peacekeeping operations, had earlier said the military did not plan a coup but warned of possible violence if Qarase did not step down.

"The last thing we want to do is have violence, the last thing we want to do is have bloodshed, but Qarase is pointing us in that direction," Bainimarama told Radio New Zealand.

He had previously said Qarase's government should resign or face being forced from office.

The government tried to turn the tables on Bainimarama on Tuesday, but senior military officers rebuffed attempts to replace him while he was out of the country.

Tensions soared further when soldiers defied police and removed a 7.5-tonne shipment of ammunition from wharves in the capital Suva and then failed to give a public pledge not to use it against the government.

Fiji police commissioner Andrew Hughes said police were investigating possible charges of sedition against Bainimarama, Radio New Zealand reported.

"We may look at other less provocative, less confrontational options than a straight-out arrest but he will be invited to interview," commissioner Andrew Hughes said.

"The point I'm making, stressing here, is we're not backing down," Hughes said.

Regional leaders have expressed deep concern over the prospects of a coup, with Australian Prime Minister John Howard accusing Bainimarama of ignoring the long-term interests of the Pacific nation.

"It cannot be in the interests of Fiji to have a military coup, it cannot be in the interests of Fiji to have a military commander talking about bloodshed," Howard told Australian television.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australian warships were on the way to Fiji in case they were needed to evacuate Australian citizens caught up in the popular tourist destination's fourth coup in 20 years.

"The situation is uncertain, the situation could deteriorate," he told parliament. "We think there is a very real chance there could be a coup in Fiji and it's important that all of us do everything we can to stop that occurring."

Australia was holding talks with the Pacific Island Forum regional grouping to determine "what as a region we could do to assist the Fiji government and those discussions are ongoing," Downer said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said she had pledged full support to Qarase, and called on Bainimarama to step down.

"What Bainimarama will find is that no other government in the world is supporting him. Governments like to see constitutional processes followed," Clark said.

Bainimarama has often accused the government of corruption and threatened to oust it over controversial legislation, including a bill that would offer amnesties to the plotters of a racially motivated coup in 2000.

The military chief, who came close to losing his life in a mutiny associated with the coup, has refused to say when he intends to return to Fiji.

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