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Commodore Frank Bainimarama (pictured) has been at odds with the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. (file photo)

Commodore Frank Bainimarama (pictured) has been at odds with the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. (file photo) (Reuters)

Fiji tense as army exercises in capital

Fiji's military staged exercises around the capital Suva and closed off the city's army barracks as tensions rose in the South Pacific island nation amid fears of a military takeover.

Fiji's outspoken military chief, Frank Bainimarama, has threatened to force Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to resign unless he drops two contentious Bills, one which will offer amnesty to some of those involved in a 2000 coup.

Mr Qarase has said he will deal with Commodore Bainimarama when the military chief returns from a tour of the Middle East, where he is visiting Fijian troops.

Commodore Bainimarama is expected back in the country on Thursday, coinciding with a planned march of about 3,000 army reservists through Suva.

A Fiji online media service said the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) had said the Suva exercises were not threatening.

"The RFMF has confirmed that it is conducting exercises at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks and in the greater Suva area and there is no cause for alarm," said the website.

Ammunition dispute

Fiji's police commissioner has refused to release a shipment of 7.5 tonnes of ammunition to the military until commanders give a commitment that it will not be used against the Government.

The ammunition has been acquired from South Korea, local media said.

"I need the military to give its assurance that the ammunition at the wharf will not be used to destabilise the Government," Andrew Hughes told the Fiji Times newspaper.

Commissioner Hughes, an Australian, is due to meet military officers later on Tuesday to discuss the ammunition issue.

"I warn Hughes to act sensibly and release the ammunition because if anything happens, he will pack his bag and fly back to Australia leaving the country in a mess," Commodore Bainimarama told the Fiji Sun newspaper from the Middle East.

"His action is unnecessary because now the people will think that there is a rift between the police and the army. There is no such rift because in Fiji. We are related in one way or another."

Fiji has suffered three coups and a failed mutiny since 1987.

The coups have been racially fuelled, with indigenous Fijians fearful of losing political control of their island nation to ethnic Indian Fijians, who dominate the sugar and tourism-based economy.

Australia has issued a new travel advisory for Fiji, warning citizens of rising tensions between the military and Government.

"You should avoid demonstrations, street rallies and any public gatherings. Such events could become catalysts for civil disorder," the Department of Foreign Affairs' advisory said.

The United States has warned its citizens "to be aware that civil-military unrest in November is possible".

- Reuters

Audio Related Audio

In Fiji, tensions between the military and the Government are steadily rising, with the Government refusing to alter several pieces of controversial legislation and observers fearing another coup.

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