- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

SUVA, FIJI (AP) - Fiji’s armed forces chief tightened his grip on the country Sunday, posting censors in newsrooms and roadblocks on the capital’s streets as critics accused him of establishing a military dictatorship.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama sought to assure residents of the South Pacific nation there would be no unrest following three days of political tumult that ended with the constitution thrown out and a government that senior judges had declared illegal back in power.

“Emergency regulations are in force,” Bainimarama said in a national address late Saturday. “However, these regulations are only a precautionary measure.”

Military-backed “information officers” stood watch in newspaper, news radio and television offices to prevent the publication or broadcast of any reports that, Bainimarama said, “could cause disorder.” Police were granted extra detention powers.

The Fiji Times, the country’s main daily, published it’s Sunday edition with several blank spaces where stories about the crisis would have appeared but were blocked by censors, said Greg Baxter, a spokesman for Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd., which owns the paper.

“For the time being, we are acquiescing to the demands of the censor, given the direct threat to the safety of our staff that will arise if we don’t,” Baxter said.

The streets remained calm on Sunday.

The commander seized power in a 2006 coup _ the country’s fourth in 20 years _ but had insisted his rule is legitimate. He had said he would eventually call elections to restore democracy, after he rewrites the constitution and electoral laws to remove what he says is racial discrimination against a large ethnic-Indian minority.

Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd added to the international scorn directed at Bainimarama following his latest actions.

“Australia condemns unequivocally this action by the military ruler of Fiji to turn this great country into virtually a military dictatorship, with the suspension of freedom of the press and actions which undermine prosperity for the ordinary people,” Rudd told reporters in the remote Western Australian town of Port Hedland, where his plane made a refueling stop after turning around in midflight after the East Asia summit in Thailand was cancelled because of protests.

Australia has renewed travel warnings to its citizens to avoid Fiji and stay away from crowds because of the possibility of unrest.

Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo on Saturday. A day earlier, Iloilo had abrogated the constitution and declared a state of emergency in response to a senior court’s ruling that Bainimarama’s regime was unlawful.

Iloilo’s power grab included firing all of Fiji’s judges and magistrates and declaring a 30-day state of emergency. He set a timetable of five years for elections. He denied he was acting at the behest of Bainimarama.

Australia, the United States, the United Nations and others accuse Bainimarama of dragging his feet on the restoration of democracy. Many nations have imposed sanctions, and the country’s tourism- and sugar export-dependent economy has plummeted since the coup.

On Thursday, a three-judge Court of Appeal panel upheld a challenge to Bainimarama’s rule by ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and urged Iloilo to replace the military government with an interim administration until elections could be held. The panel members were among the judges fired.

Bainimarama initially acquiesced to the ruling and said he would withdraw to barracks. Within hours, however, Iloilo had suspended the constitution and later reappointed Bainimarama and all of his former ministers.

Iloilo said he was forced into the action he had taken because the court decision had created a power vacuum.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide