Fiji coup must wait for the footie [+audio]

By Phil Taylor

Fiji carried on yesterday as though tomorrow would never come.

The shops were open, the traffic flowed and there was no sign of the military patrolling the streets of Suva.

That is because they were at the rugby. The annual showdown between the best the Army and the police can produce is an event that even a coup must wait for.

Speaking before the match, military commander Frank Bainimarama said he took Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's failure to agree to his demands to mean that he had a green light to go ahead with his "clean-up".

>> Newstalk ZB audio: Fiji's PM-in-hiding Laisenia Qarase talks about the coming coup

That could be as early as today. He intended to appoint an interim government and said people should expect it to govern for an indefinite period. In effect it would be the republic's fourth coup in 20 years.

Commodore Bainimarama's more immediate intentions, however, involved rugby and grog. While the games were played, senior Army and police sat down for a few bowls of kava - an acquired taste which is said to promote peacefulness.

The 5000-strong crowd giggled and cheered and hooted as the golden oldies (40-plus) warm-up sides slipped about a wet field.

Commodore Bainimarama sat beside his wife in the middle of the grandstand wearing a Fijian floral shirt. His eyes followed the ball, he laughed and gesticulated. If it was a show of a man relaxed on the eve of a dramatic event, then it was a good one.

Senior Army officers occupied the seats around him, only one or two in uniform.

After the curtain-raiser, won 24-6 by the Army, the commodore moved to a tented platform. To his left was Acting Police Commissioner Moses Driver. And to his right sat Fiji Vice-President Joni Madraiwiwi, a former Supreme Court judge.

The stadium, fringed by palms, the ocean just beyond, made a picture. Commodore Bainimarama was looking more than amicable at such a tense time, and you couldn't guess that he was on the eve of putting his plan into practice.

The Army is almost exclusively made up of indigenous Fijians, the police less so. The crowd reflected that. It's hard to know what they really thought; no one wanted to spoil the fun with talk of politics.

Outside, a Fiji-Indian taxi-driver named Ashok was happy to do so. Legal or not, Commodore Bainimarama's takeover plan had his support and, he suspected, that of most Indians.

"Bainimarama is thinking of all the people, whereas Qarase is thinking of only some of them."

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