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Fiji's Military Declares State of Emergency Following Coup


Fiji's armed forces are tightening their grip on power a day after ousting the elected government. The army has declared a state of emergency, appointed a caretaker prime minister and dismissed the country's police chief after he refused to take orders from the armed forces. Phil Mercer has this report from Suva, the Fijian capital.

The head of Fiji's military and coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama declared a state of emergency Wednesday, allowing troops to impose curfews, call up reservists and cordon off parts of the capital.

Bainimarama, saying he would ruthlessly put down any opposition, dismissed the police chief after he refused to take orders from the military.

But he also said the military leaders wanted a peaceful transition to an interim administration and - eventually - democratic elections.

The coup leader swore in a caretaker prime minister Wednesday to head the interim government. Dr. Jona Senilagakali is a military physician with no political experience.

Fijians are waiting nervously to see what happens as the constitutional crisis continues.

Professor Brij Lal, who helped draw up Fiji's constitution, says his country faces an uncertain future.

"Some of the most important institutions of Fijian society, which once backed the coups in '87 and 2000, have come out openly against it," the professor said. "And I mean for example the Great Council of Chiefs - the umbrella organization of the indigenous community - has condemned the coup and the Methodist church to which 80 percent or more of Fijians belong has come out against the coup."

The military has flown ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase out of Suva to his village on a remote island, rounded up his supporters and dissolved parliament. But Mr. Qarase remained defiant, saying he is still the country's legitimate leader.

The bloodless coup continues to attract international condemnation. The United States has suspended aid to Fiji and said the Qarase government should be reinstated.

Australia and New Zealand have also suspended military ties with Fiji and imposed travel sanctions.

The military says it deposed Mr. Qarase for alleged corruption and his plans to offer amnesties to those involved in a nationalist uprising six years ago.

Fiji was generally peaceful Wednesday but the area around the capital, Suva, has been cordoned off following the country's fourth coup in twenty years.

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