Fiji PM agrees to military demands

Article from: AAP

From correspondents in Suva

November 30, 2006 04:02pm

FIJI'S Prime Minister has agreed to a long list of demands by the country's military commander in a bid to stave off the country's fourth coup in 20 years.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has promised to suspend three controversial bills at the heart of military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama's threat to oust his Government.

They include one that could have forgiven those involved in staging Fiji's 2000 coup.

Mr Qarase said legal opinion would be sought on whether they were constitutional. If they were found not to be, they would be dropped, he said.

He also recognised that the 2000 coup had been illegal, as the military had demanded.

Mr Qarase said the Government would accept any recommendation by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) not to lay sedition charges against the military chief and other senior military figures - another key demand made by Commodore Bainimarama.

"If they decided not to proceed further, in the greatest interest of peace and stability in Fiji, the Government would agree with this," he said in a nationally televised address.

But he said the decision was not for the Government to make, and that he could not interfere with the independence of police and the DPP.

The Prime Minister said the concessions announced today stemmed from New Zealand-brokered crisis talks he attended with Commodore Bainimarama in Wellington yesterday.

He urged the military chief to quickly respond to the Government's new position so stability could be restored in Fiji.

Mr Qarase also cast a shadow over the future of Fiji Police Commissioner, Australian Andrew Hughes, who is on leave.

Commodore Bainimarama had demanded the sacking of Mr Hughes, who has been a vocal critic of the military in its stand-off with the Government.

Mr Hughes left Fiji this week and is back in Australia on leave after receiving threats as the political crisis escalated.

Mr Qarase said Mr Hughes' contract as police commissioner was nearing an end and he would take into account the military's concerns in reviewing his position.

Commodore Bainimarama, who has repeatedly threatened to oust Mr Qarase, earlier this month presented the Prime Minister with a list of "non-negotiable" demands.

If they were not met by Monday next week, the military chief said he would begin a "clean up" campaign against the Government.

Coup fears hit a high overnight when the military carried out exercises in Suva to prepare for any intervention by foreign troops.

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