Niuean Premier Toke Talagi yesterday urged Fijians to rise in rebellion and take to the streets against the military-led regime, saying it would be impossible for the regime to shoot 500,000 people protesting.
Mr Talagi is the outgoing chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum and used his speech in Cairns yesterday to say the Fijian people had a responsibility to secure the fate of their own country and should "rise up to challenge" the regime of interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
When later asked if it was fair to expect the people to protest against an armed force, he said there was little the interim government could do to quell a mass uprising.
"I wonder whether people realise you can't shoot 500,000 Fijians if they're rising up peacefully. They have to accept some responsibility for what's happening in Fiji at the present time and I'm saying to them 'rise up'."
Prime Minister John Key said the comments were unhelpful and effectively proposed trying to right a coup with another coup. "You can't have a good coup and a bad coup."
He said encouraging dialogue between Commodore Bainimarama with other political players in Fiji was the right course of action "not some sort of uprising of the people".
He said it was possible Mr Talagi's comments came from a sense of frustration and also acknowledged there was a risk of some public protest in Fiji.
"There's always a risk frustration will grow in Fiji as the economy deteriorates. We would much prefer a peaceful solution. There is a peaceful way to resolve this and we want that to happen."
Australian PM Kevin Rudd said while the Fijian Government's latest actions in arresting church leaders were profoundly disturbing, Australia advocates strongly for a peaceful solution.
Mr Talagi later said he was not advocating violent protests, but believed Fijians now had to take matters into their own hands for their children's sakes.
He said the forum remained willing to help Fiji return to democracy, but the 2014 date Commodore Bainimarama had set for elections was unacceptable.
Mr Talagi's comments have pushed the issue of Fiji back into the spotlight, despite efforts by New Zealand and Australia to focus on the economic crisis and climate change.
However, at the leaders' retreat yesterday, the 15 leaders are expected to agree to continue to maintain the suspension, albeit with varying levels of enthusiasm.
Stronger debate is likely over whether to include Fiji in negotiations of the Pacific countries with New Zealand and Australia for the Pacer Plus free trade agreement.
There is some disagreement about the extent to which Fiji should be involved - whether simply on a consultation basis or with its officials actively taking part in negotiations. However, Fiji is one of the largest economies in the Pacific, making it impractical to leave it out.
Mr Key has said he is comfortable with Fiji being involved if it did not undermine the suspension from the forum, noting that a final agreement on the free trade deal was not expected for several years.
Mr Rudd has also determined to make climate change a major part of the discussions - releasing a paper on Australia's intention to help Pacific nations adapt to climate change which he is expected to follow up with major funding injection today.