The State Department has expressed deep disappointment over the assumption of extraordinary powers by the President of Fiji, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, and it is calling for a return to democratic guarantees provided under the country's 1997 constitution, until genuinely-free elections can be held.
The politically-troubled Pacific island country has been the scene of repeated military coups in the last two decades.
The comments followed an announcement Friday by President Iloilo that he has annulled the constitution, sacked the country's judges and assumed all governing power.
The move came a day after an appeals court ruled that the country's current military leadership, which came to power in a coup in 2006, had been illegally appointed.
The President, whose powers under the 1997 constitution had been largely ceremonial, claimed the broader mandate after meeting with coup leader and interim prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who had been nominally ousted from power by Thursday's court ruling.
The maneuver is widely seen as preserving power for the military.
In a talk with reporters, a State Department spokesman Richard Aker said the United States wants to see Fiji return to democratic rule.
"We're very concerned about and deeply disappointed by the collapse of Fiji's political dialogue process, and we're concerned about the abrogation of Fiji's democratic constitution," he said. We're concerned about not only what this holds for the future of an independent judiciary in Fiji, and also even for the future of democracy in that country. And we call on the interim authorities in Fiji to respect the protection offered to the people of Fiji by the 1997 constitution, so that the country can once again hold free and fair elections," he added.
Spokesman Aker reiterated the U.S. call for Fiji to return to the democracy timetable and benchmarks set down by the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional grouping of eleven Pacific island states along with New Zealand and Australia, which urged new elections in Fiji by the end of this year.
President Iloilo, in his declaration of broad powers, said the country would hold elections in 2014, much later than provided for either in the now-discarded constitution or the blueprint of the Pacific countries.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the situation in Fiji earlier this week with visiting New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
She said the United States joins New Zealand in encouraging Fijian authorities to abide by the Pacific forum plan, and said the two countries share a common determination that democracy in Fiji "must not be extinguished."
In his statement Friday, State Department spokesman Aker urged a return to elected rule in Fiji based on a genuine dialogue by all political parties that is "inclusive, time-bound, and with no pre-determined outcome."