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Military Seizes Power in Fiji


Fiji's military commander says he has overthrown the country's democratically elected government. Commodore Frank Bainimarama announced that he has assumed executive authority and taken over the country. From Suva, Phil Mercer reports.

After weeks of threats Fiji's army has finally made its move.

The army chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama assumed emergency powers to sack the government. He said he was invoking a "doctrine of necessity" because the country was headed for "destruction" under the former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

The commodore told a news conference that the Qarase government was tainted by bribery and corruption and had no intention of solving Fiji's political crisis.

"We consider that Fiji has reached a crossroads and that the government and all those empowered to make decisions in our constitutional democracy are unable to make decisions to save our people from destruction," he said.

The army has been in dispute with Qarase for months, over his plans to grant amnesties to those behind a nationalist uprising of six years ago. The military believes the earlier coup plotters were treated far too leniently.

There were further disagreements over controversial new laws that would have given more land and fishing rights to indigenous Fijians at the expense of the ethnic-Indian minority.

Bainimarama sees himself as the protector of multi-culturalism in Fiji and claims the Qarase government was discriminating against the Indian minority, which makes up about 40 percent of the population.

A caretaker prime minister will be appointed, followed by an interim government. Commodore Bainimarama has promised that democratic elections will eventually be held. He urged Fijians not to be intimidated or scared by his actions.

The deposed leader Qarase is now under house arrest, from where he has accused the military of "raping" the constitution. He had asked New Zealand and Australia for military assistance to fend off the coup, but both refused for fear of sparking bloodshed.

This military take-over is certain to provoke widespread international condemnation. Australia and New Zealand have warned that Fiji would face grave economic and social consequences if the army took control.

This armed take-over is the fourth coup in the South Pacific nation in the past 20 years.

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