Fiji PM drops controversial bill

By Peter Williams

SUVA - Fiji's prime minister said today that coup participants could no longer receive amnesties under changes to legislation at the heart of his stand-off with the country's military.

Laisenia Qarase also said he has no fears of a coup as military chief Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama arrived back in Fiji after a lengthy trip abroad.

The commander arrived home this morning after visiting Fiji troops abroad and repeatedly threatening via the media to force Mr Qarase to quit.

Cdre Bainimarama said he would spend time with family today in Suva and would not make any comments.

Mr Qarase said the reconciliation bill was substantially revised and the controversial clause to grant amnesties to people convicted over the 2000 coup removed.

>>Two bills at heart of Fiji coup tension

"I must say that quite categorically now there is no longer an amnesty provision in the new bill," he told reporters.

"It is a changed bill, substantially changed.

"I think when the bill is out it is going to be quite acceptable to even those opposing the bill."

The prime minister said the change had been made because the amnesties were unconstitutional and not because of military pressure.

The amended bill has not yet been considered by the cabinet, he said.

Cdre Bainimarama has told Mr Qarase via the media to withdraw the legislation and another bill granting foreshore ownership to indigenous Fijians or resign.

Mr Qarase suggested the military leader is being poorly advised about the content of the bills.

He said he had no concerns about Cdre Bainimarama's return and hoped to meet him next week to sort out their differences.

"The assurance from the military is that there is no intention for an overthrow of the government.

"I take their word for it."

"It's good that [Bainimarama's] back and I hope he and I can talk as early as possible next week."

On whether two Australian ships bound for waters near Fiji for a possible evacuation of citizens were still necessary, Mr Qarase said: "That is their decision, not mine".

He was unaware of New Zealand sending a reported 30 police officers to Suva to assist with security at the country's high commission.

Meanwhile, the military says Cdre Bainimarama will co-operate with a police investigation into whether the remarks he made about the government were seditious.

"We will be open to support the police, we have been supporting the police in all the investigations," said Captain Esala Teleni, acting commander during Bainimarama's absence.

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo was released from a private hospital yesterday after being admitted on Thursday for what his office is calling a routine check-up.

The 86-year-old leader was reported to have sought, on Mr Qarase's advice, to replace Cdre Bainimarama on Tuesday but was rebuffed by the military.


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