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Commodore Frank Bainimarama is expected home this week. (File photo)

Commodore Frank Bainimarama is expected home this week. (File photo) (Reuters)

Tension in Fiji after failed attempt to replace military boss

Tension remains high in Fiji after the Government's unsuccessful attempt to get rid of the military commander while he is out of the country.

Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and its President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, yesterday tried and failed to remove their outspoken military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Army spokesman Major Neumi Leweni says the military remains loyal to Commodore Bainimarama, who is overseas inspecting Fijian peacekeeping troops and is due home by the end of the week.

"They actually nominated someone to take over but that someone declined and now everything is back to normal," he said.

But when contacted in Iraq, Commodore Bainimarama has reportedly repeated his call for the Government to resign and warned that if it did not, the Prime Minister would be responsible for any violence that occurred.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has advised Australians in Fiji to exercise caution and avoid street demonstrations and large public gatherings.

Coup fears

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Australia is very concerned that there could be a military coup in Fiji.

Mr Downer says Prime Minister John Howard spoke to his Fijian counterpart again last night about the problems in the Pacific nation.

Mr Downer says the Navy is on stand-by if Australians need to be evacuated.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman urged Fiji's military leaders to refrain from any actions that could be seen as a provocation or a threat to the government.

Mr Downer says there has been a lot of tension between the Fijian Government and the commander of their defence force for some time.

He says it would be deeply regrettable to see the democratic processes in Fiji collapse again and it would be devastating for the Fijian tourist industry and the economy.

Mr Downer says Australia's doing what it can to encourage political stability.

"Prime Minister [John Howard] spoke to the Prime Minister of Fiji again last night," he said.

"We had of course our Prime Minister in Fiji last week for the Pacific Island Forum meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Qarase of Fiji and then we've had the Fijian Prime Minister in Australia a few weeks ago - so we've had a lot of contact with them.

"I've of course been speaking to my counterpart there have been communications with the Fijian military as well."




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