- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

SUVA, FIJI (AP) - Fiji’s military government expelled three foreign television journalists Tuesday, a day after threatening them with deportation as local media protested new censorship by canceling news broadcasts and leaving pages of newspapers blank.

Underlining sensitivity over international coverage of the latest power grab led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, security officials detained Australian reporter Sean Dorney, New Zealand reporter Sia Aston and cameraman Matt Smith before putting them on flights out of Nadi International Airport early Tuesday.

The expulsions were confirmed by their media organizations in the two countries.

A local Fiji One television reporter, identified by colleagues as Edwin Nand, was also taken into custody, reportedly for transmitting news material overseas.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand have criticized Bainimarama for suspending freedom of speech and accused him of undermining the well-being of Fiji’s citizens.

“We’ve got effectively a self-appointed dictator” and a “very unpredictable” regime, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said Tuesday, echoing comments a day earlier by Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

Fiji’s latest political upheaval began Friday when President Ratu Josefa Iloilo abolished the constitution, fired all the judges and declared a state of emergency in response to a senior court’s ruling that Bainimarama’s regime was unlawful. He set a timetable of five years for elections. He denied he was acting at the behest of Bainimarama.

Bainimarama moved quickly to tighten his grip on the country, posting censors in newsrooms and putting up roadblocks on the capital’s streets.

The Fiji Times, the country’s main newspaper, published its Sunday and Monday editions with several blank spaces where stories about the crisis would have appeared. “The stories on this page could not be published because of Government restrictions,” read the only words on Sunday’s page two.

Fiji’s main television station, Fiji One, refused to broadcast its nightly news bulletin Sunday, instead showing a simple message written across a black screen: “Viewers please be advised that there will be no 6 p.m. news tonight.”

The station later informed viewers it could not present some prepared stories because of censorship rules.

Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup _ the country’s fourth in 20 years _ but insists his rule is legitimate. He has said he will eventually hold 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, 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.

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