16 Apr 2009

Fiji seen as threat to Pacific stability: forum considers immediate action

10:16 pm on 16 April 2009

The chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum says Fiji now poses a threat to the stability of the region and the possibility of immediate action is being considered.

Niue premier Toke Talagi, who currently chairs the forum, says he's written to forum leaders to ask them what to do about Fiji's ruling military regime.

In January, the forum vowed to partially suspend Fiji if it didn't name a credible date for elections by 1 May. Mr Talagi has now asked whether the forum should act against Fiji before that date, given recent developments.

He has also asked whether the forum secretariat should continue to be based in the Fijian capital, Suva.

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand is likely to support moves to suspend Fiji from the organisation immediately.

Dialogue urged - but without NZ and Australia

Some leaders of Pacific nations are calling for more dialogue with the Fiji regime - but without input from New Zealand and Australia.

Cook Islands deputy PM Sir Terepai Maoate says a leaders' group needs to meet interim Fiji prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, but it should not include New Zealand and Australia, he says, because both countries have taken the wrong approach and the commodore feels cornered by bullying.

Kiribati's President Anote Tong says no progress will be made while Fiji is under pressure to set a fixed timetable for elections.

However, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi says Fiji cannot be left to drift, and strict measures are required.

Emergency rule necessary for electoral reform - Bainimarama

Commodore Bainimarama has meanwhile defended the imposition of emergency rule, saying it had to be done for the sake of electoral reform.

Widespread restrictions were imposed after Fiji's president revoked the constitution and sacked the judiciary in retaliation for a Court of Appeal decision that the regime in power since a military coup in 2006 was illegal.

Commodore Bainimarama says the constitution was abrogated after a survey found that 64% of those in Fiji wanted electoral reform so that voting would no longer be based on race.

Emergency regulations had been imposed so that the reforms could be implemented: "The last thing we want," he said"is opposition to these reforms throughout."

He said media controls might be lifted in a month's time.

Fijian dollar devalued by 20%

The Fiji Reserve Bank has devalued the Fijian dollar by 20% and the bank's governor has been replaced by his former deputy, Sada Reddy.

On Tuesday, the bank tightened exchange controls in a move to safeguard foreign reserves. Official reserves stood at $674 million (Fijian) at the end of February, equivalent to about 2.7 months of imports of goods.

House of Travel sales director Brent Thomas says the devaluation will further reduce the cost of holidays in Fiji - not through airfares, which are paid in New Zealand dollars, but through other costs.

Life still normal, says spokesperson

The Fijian information ministry has indicated that the emergency regulations may remain in place until elections are held in 2014.

Asked whether the government would operate under the current rules until then, spokesperson Major Neumi Leweni said yes.

"Life is still normal in Fiji," he added, "and there's no detaining of people unnecessarily."

Fiji TV journalist Edwin Nand was released on Wednesday after 36 hours in police custody, as was Law Society president Dorsami Naidu, who was held for 24 hours after he questioned the sacking of the judiciary.

Mr Naudi says he will continue to voice the views of the Fiji Law Society, despite being concerned for his personal safety.

The interim regime is yet to appoint new judges and it's understood the courts are closed until new appointments are made.