9 Dec 2006

Fiji suspended from Commonwealth

8:33 am on 9 December 2006

The Commonwealth has suspended Fiji's membership in protest at its recent military coup.

The decision followed a meeting of foreign ministers from Commonwealth countries in London.

Ben Lowings reports from London,

"Ministers from 9 countries swiftly came to the decision that the military takeover in Fiji was a breach of the Commonwealth commitment to democracy. The Commonwealth Secretary General, Don McKinnon said the only way power can be transferred in a member state is by the ballot box and not by the military . The decision is a black mark for Fiji international reputation and may stop further recruitment of Fijian's to the British army and as UN peacekeepers, it may also derail talks to renew a preferential trade deal on Fiji sugar sold to the european union. It's the third time Fiji has been suspended from the Commonwealth, its membership was only restored after its leaders promised to allow multi-racial politics."

And the acting secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, Josefa Maiava, says they are considering a number of issues in relation to Fiji following the coup, but he cannot say if this includes expelling the country from the regional body.

Fairfax newspapers, quoting diplomatic sources, are reporting that such an expulsion is likely.

The Fiji Law Society has suspended the practicising certificates of all military lawyers.

The Fiji Sun reports the action was taken after the Law Society said it stands for the rule of law and declared this week's military takeover illegal.

The society's president, Davnesh Sharma, says unless the suspension is lifted, the military's lawyers will not be allowed to practise.

He says if they act in breach of the suspension, they risk their practising certificates being cancelled.

Mr Sharma says he was informed that the military had sent an officer to take him in for questioning.

He says if he is arrested and detained, military lawyers who give such orders will face serious misconduct charges.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs has denied claims that he wants a mediator to arrange a meeting between himself and the military commander.

Ratu Ovini Bokini has accused the former head of both the military and the Great Council of Chiefs, Ratu Epeli Ganilau of misleading the public with claims to be setting up discussions.

Ratu Ovini says the Council will make it known when they are ready to meet the Commander:

I've extended the invitation many times to the Commander of the Fiji military forces, and the door is open to him. We will listen to him and listen to the underlying causes of the problem and help him find a win-win solution for the sake of our country.

Ratu Ovini's announcement follows on the heels of Fiji's former military commander and leader of the National Alliance Party, Ratu Epeli Ganilau comment's that he supports the military's clean up of the Qarase government.

Ratu Epeli says he supports the cause but not the method.

He says they accept that "whatever has been done is wrong and illegal', but they "support the army's cause to stop endemic corruption and eradicate poverty."

Ratu Epeli says the National Alliance Party has to be realistic in its view that debating the legality or otherwise of the military's action is an exercise in futility.

He says the former government is no longer in power, and Laisenia Qarase and the people need to accept that and move forward.

Meanwhile, Fiji's army appointed caretaker Prime Minister has accused his predecessor of taking the country in the wrong direction by playing on racial differences.

Dr Jona Senilagakali says policies under Laisenia Qarase, such as the affirmative action plan for indigenous Fijians, benefitted only a few citizens.

I talked to taxi drivers and people who work in supermarkets and they have all expressed the same opinion, there's too much wastage in the government.