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US Condemns Fiji Coup, Suspends Military Aid

The United States has joined several other countries and the United Nations in condemning the military coup in Fiji. The small U.S. military aid program to the Pacific island state has been suspended because of Tuesday's events. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States had in recent weeks issued several public warnings against a military coup in Fiji amid the political unrest in the island state.

Now that the admonitions have apparently gone unheeded, the Bush administration is condemning the takeover and has suspended aid to the Fijian military pending a formal U.S. determination of what has occurred.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack condemned the coup announced by Fiji's military chief, Frank Bainimarama.

But he also noted that country's civilian leaders have refused to step aside and said the United States does not view the stated military takeover as irreversible:

"At the moment events are still unsettled. The prime minister has refused to resign," McCormack says. "The president, the vice president, the head of the council of great chiefs, have rejected this move by the general. And we do not view this as something that is irreversible, so we call for those forces who are attempting to seize control of the Fijian government to stand down and to return to constitutional order."

Spokesman McCormack said the United States has suspended its two-point-five million dollar annual military aid program to Fiji, which mainly involves U.S. training for Fijian officers and credits for purchases of military hardware.

He said the suspension will remain in place until U.S. officials can make a formal determination about what has occurred in Fiji.

Under U.S. law, military aid cannot be provided to a country where a duly-elected government is deposed by a military coup or decree.

As tensions between the Fijian government and military simmered in late October, the State Department issued an unusual public warning against a coup, saying that such action by the military would severely affect Fiji's stability and development, and negatively affect its relations with the United States and others.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns reiterated those concerns in a telephone call to Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase a week ago.

A written statement here said Burns specifically noted that a military aid cutoff was required under U.S. law in the event of a coup, and said that as a matter of policy the United States might cut other forms of aid as well.

Burns was also said to have told the prime minister the United States has no intention of becoming involved in Fiji's domestic politics, and that U.S. support lies with democratic institutions, consistent with a view that constitutional processes and the rule of law must be respected by all parties.