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Fiji's Military Turns Up Pressure on Embattled Government


Soldiers have set up roadblocks in the Fijian capital and disarmed police amid signs the military is preparing to overthrow the government. Bodyguards of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and his cabinet have also been relieved of their weapons. There has been no official confirmation from the military that it is seizing power, although many Fijians fear it is only a matter of time. Phil Mercer reports from Fiji's capital, Suva.

Trucks carrying soldiers have left the main barracks here in Suva as the defense force turns up the heat on a beleaguered government.

It appears that the army commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, is beginning to make his move after weeks of threats against the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. But he has refused to confirm that the seizure of power has begun.

Roadblocks have been set up around the capital and weapons at a police armory have been seized by the military. Bainimarama says arms the military originally gave to bodyguards of government ministers have been taken back by the military.

"I understand the weapons belonging to bodyguards for the ministers and the prime minister have been returned," he said. "As I said, I reiterate my call to those that are thinking of conducting criminal activities against the populace and against the military and the police not to do so. The security forces will be out there and we'll ensure the security of all the people of this nation."

The army commander has accused Mr. Qarase's government of being corrupt.

At the heart of the dispute, however, are plans by the prime minister to grant amnesty to those behind a nationalist uprising six years ago. The military believes those perpetrators have been treated far too leniently.

The military also disagrees with proposed new laws that would give indigenous Fijians greater land and fishing rights at the expense of the ethnic Indian community. The military says such laws would be discriminatory.

Fiji has already undergone three coups since 1987. A fourth could send the country into the international wilderness. The country's powerful South Pacific neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, along with the British Commonwealth, have warned that Fiji will face diplomatic and trade boycotts if the country's democratically elected leaders are ousted at gunpoint.

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