The military-led Fiji Government has issued a decree setting the new retirement age for public servants at 55, effective almost immediately, as it takes drastic measures to cut Government spending in a rapidly shrinking economy.

"Any person employed in the civil service, Fiji Police Force and the Fiji Prisons Service, who is already over the age of 55 years, shall retire on 30 April 2009," the decree says.

The same decree exempts top civil servants such as the Commander of the Military Forces, the Commissioner of Police and Auditor General, who shall retire at age 65.

The measures are part of the regime's response to an economy suffering not just from the global recession but the downturn in tourism since the 2006 coup led by military commander Frank Bainimarama.

New Zealand Public Service Association national secretary Richard Wagstaff said last night it was a "deplorable" move that discriminated on the grounds of age and breached fundamental human rights. Public servants in Fiji had the union's sympathy.

In a further crackdown on freedoms last week, the judiciary were sacked after the Court of Appeal ruled the coup unlawful, the news media censored, and foreign journalists deported.

Elections in Fiji are not now scheduled to be held for five years and that led Prime Minister John Key to call for immediate suspension of Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum before the previous May 1 deadline.

The website Raw Fiji News reported yesterday that "native Fijians" were mobilising across the country and that civil unrest was only a matter of time.

Chief information official Major Neumi Leweni issued a statement last night saying that that Government did not intend to put any curfew in place.

Commodore Bainimarama and Major Leweni have been on a public relations offensive in the past two days.

Major Leweni yesterday issued a statement saying foreign media representatives were "most welcome" to visit Fiji.

The applications would be based on how they had reported on Fiji in the past or undertakings to report accurately and responsibly.

A glaring example of the hand of censorship was evident on the website yesterday when it turned a heavily critical statement by Louis Michel, the EU Commissioner responsible for aid to Fiji, into an unrecognisable news story.

EU ready to assist Fiji
Fiji's largest donor the European Union has again extended a helping hand.

Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid, today said the EU wants to assist Fiji "at a time when global economic prospects are becoming increasingly difficult".

The EU is looking to provide substantial financial support to rescue the sugar sector and help restore the economy.



Statement by Commissioner Louis Michel on the situation in Fiji:

Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Aid, expressed deep regret and disappointment regarding recent regressive developments in Fiji; in particular the abrogation of the Constitution, the sacking of all judges, the delay of general elections until 2014 and the curtailment of freedom of speech.

Commissioner Michel said: "These developments are unacceptable for the international community. Commitments must be respected. An early and inclusive domestic political process leading to a return to constitutional order and democracy in Fiji will allow us to provide assistance to Fiji, at a time when global economic prospects are becoming increasingly difficult."