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Fiji remains tense after new coup threat

Fiji remains tense after new coup threat

By Frank Gagliotti - World Socialist Web Site
16 January 2006

Bitter divisions in ruling circles in the small Pacific island state of Fiji have resurfaced after the country’s military commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, last week threatened to stage a coup if the government proceeded with its planned Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill. The legislation, which would provide amnesty for the leaders of a May 2000 coup attempt, is due to be passed in February when the parliament resumes.

Bainimarama, who made similar threats last August when the Bill was introduced, declared on January 8: “[I]f they [the government] lack the moral strength and the courage to continue the good fight the military is willing to return and complete for this nation the responsibilities we gave this government in 2000 and 2001.”

In May 2000, coup leader George Speight, an ethnic Fijian businessman, and a handful of special forces troops took over the parliament at gun point, detaining the first elected Fijian-Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and members of his Labour-led government for 56 days. The military led by Bainimarama imposed martial law and installed the current Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, as an unelected caretaker, then brokered a deal with Speight to end the standoff at parliament house.

With the backing of the ethnic Fijian establishment, Qarase formed a government sympathetic to the Speight’s communalist aims. He placed a number of Speight’s backers in his cabinet and implemented much of their racist agenda for measures favouring ethnic Fijians. A year later, his government was elected amid an ongoing communalist campaign against ethnic Indians.

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