NZ suspends aid and sport contacts with Fiji as state of emergency declared

By agencies, Phil Taylor

SUVA - New Zealand has today broken off sporting contacts with Fiji and suspended all aid after the military takeover.

A ban on senior military officers visiting New Zealand, announced yesterday, has been extended to cover all members of the Fijian Military Force.

High-level political contact with any "purported new government" is also off the agenda unless it is for mediation purposes.

Prime Minister Helen Clark and Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a joint statement the Government could not overstate how seriously it viewed the actions of military commander Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama and the Fijian army.

"They must cease their disgraceful acts and restore the legitimately elected government, or suffer the consequences of their grossly illegal acts," they said.

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Yesterday's military coup and action taken today against Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who was taken away from his house in a helicopter, were completely unacceptable.

As they announced the action the Government was taking, United States Ambassador Bill McCormick issued a statement calling on Cdre Bainimarama to immediately allow Mr Qarase and his democratically elected government to perform their duties without interference.

"The United States has decided now to suspend assistance to the Government of Fiji pending the outcome of ongoing events in that country," he said.

"As we develop our response, we will continue to consult closely with our key international partners, including New Zealand and Australia."

The move comes as Commodore Bainimarama declared a state of emergency from late this afternoon in Fiji.

"I have with much reluctance assumed executive authority of the country and henceforth declared a state of emergency," Bainimarama said.

"The primary objective of the interim military government is to take the country towards good governance, rid us of corruption and bad practices and at the same time promote the well-being of Fiji and its people at the earliest possible opportunity."

Fijian soldiers sealed off Parliament grounds in Suva this morning after forcing the Senate to adjourn its sitting.

The Senate's speaker interrupted proceedings after being passed a message from the military. Soldiers with heavy automatic weapons could be seen outside the windows at the time.

As soon as the adjournment was announced, four armed soldiers entered the House.

The Secretary-General of Parliament, Mary Chapman, who has been on the parliamentary staff for all of Fiji's coups, said technically there were no "strangers in the house". She said the Senate did not want the troops to forcibly end the sitting at gunpoint, so it was decided to adjourn immediately until Thursday.

"There was no threat - they asked nicely and I thought it would be prudent to act on that request," she said.

Just before the soldiers' request to stop the debate, Senator Tupeni Baba made a speech condemning the actions occurring under military leader Frank Bainimarama.

"Unfortunately there was is a coup culture which pervades this land. There is an element that believes change can be brought about with guns rather than through our intelligence and our moral courage," he said

"The only positive future for Fiji is through moral courage not guns."

The presence of soldiers at Suva's parliament house revived the spectre of the 2000 coup, when George Speight and his followers took the government of prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry hostage and held ministers in the parliament for 56 days.

Ending days of tension, Commodore Bainimarama last night sacked Mr Qarase's government and appointed army GP Jona Senilagakali as interim Prime Minister.

Mr Qarase and his wife were this morning flown out of the capital Suva to his home island of Lau.

Troops later surrounded the Police Tactical Response Unit headquarters north of Suva and took Acting Police Commissioner Moses Driver and Acting Deputy Commissioner Kevueli Bulamainavalu to the Queen Elizabeth barracks, fijivillage.com reported.


The four coups

May 14, 1987

* Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka walks into the House of Representatives with a squad of soldiers and overthrows the month-old Government of Dr Timoci Bavadra.

September 25, 1987

* Rabuka stages a second coup, declares Fiji a republic and promises a new constitution to achieve his objective of ensuring political supremacy for indigenous Fijians.

May 19, 2000

* George Speight and his gunmen claim power for indigenous Fijians. Looters rampage through Suva, and Speight takes Mahendra Chaudhry, first ethnic Indian PM, and his Cabinet hostage.

December 5, 2006

* After days of rising tensions, military commander Frank Bainimarama takes control. "The military has taken over the Government, has executive authority and the running of this country."


The costs

Aid

* From New Zealand, Australia and the European Union - $96m

* United Nations peacekeeping payments - $12m-$20m

Plus

* Suspension by NZ and Australia of military ties with Fiji.

* Travel ban on senior Fijian military officials.

* No sporting contacts.

* No contact between the governments of Fiji and New Zealand

* Talks have begun that could eventually lead to Fiji's suspension from the Commonwealth.

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