IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Coup leader declares state of emergency in Fiji

Fiji's military ruler declared a state of emergency after seizing power, as the police chief and ousted prime minister on Wednesday urged peaceful resistance to defy the coup, and international sanctions began isolating the South Pacific country.
Frank Bainimarama
Fijian military Commodore Frank Bainimarama comments addresses journalists on Wednesday.Rick Rycroft / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fiji's military ruler declared a state of emergency after seizing power, as the police chief and ousted prime minister on Wednesday urged peaceful resistance to defy the coup, and international sanctions began isolating the South Pacific country.

A statement issued by the Information Ministry Wednesday said Commodore Frank Bainimarama ordered the state of emergency immediately after assuming executive power on Tuesday.

Bainimarama ordered that a security cordon be set up around the capital, Suva, check points established at strategic points in the city, and for all military reserves to be "marched into" military camps to support the state of emergency.

The statement came after troops held meetings with acting Police Commissioner Moses Driver, who had earlier denounced the military takeover and instructed his officers to disregard any orders from the military regime.

Driver was taken to the main military barracks in Suva under duress after troops came to police headquarters and demanded he accompany them, police spokeswoman Sylvia Low said.

Troops also entered and broke up a meeting of senior government bureaucrats who had convened to discuss Tuesday's takeover. Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's permanent secretary Jioji Kotobalavu was briefly detained, his office said.

Soldiers also entered Parliament to break up a session of the Senate, which resumed its scheduled budget deliberations despite Bainimarama's vow to dissolve Parliament, said the legislature's clerk, Mary Chapman. There was no violence.

Qarase flew out of Suva Wednesday at the request of the military, returning to his home village on an outlying island, said Pene Nonu, his private secretary.

Qarase insists he is still Fiji's legitimate leader, late Tuesday urged Fijians to peacefully oppose the armed forces.

‘Raped our constitution’
"What the military commander has done has raped our constitution and we are becoming a laughingstock around the world," Qarase told reporters. "I don't think we should take this lying down."

Scores of supporters gathered outside Qarase house on Tuesday to sing hymns.

Bainimarama appealed for patience and for Fijians to support the military's attempt "to bring good governance, rid the country of corruption and bad practices and promote prosperity."

In an earlier statement, Driver rejected any claim to legitimacy by Bainimarama.

"What the Commander and his men have done today is treasonous," he said. "The regime that they have put in place is illegal. The Fiji Police will not now, or ever, have any part of it."

Suva was generally quiet Wednesday, with most businesses open but only light traffic and fewer than normal people on the streets.

Media outlets said the military had promised to lift restrictions on publishing material critical of the regime, after sending censors to newspapers, radio and television stations late Tuesday.

International condemnation of Bainimarama's takeover flowed in.

Washington condemned the Fiji military's action and suspended US$2.5 million (euro1.9 million) in aid to Fiji for military sales and training, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Australia on Tuesday joined New Zealand in suspending military ties with Fiji and slapping travel bans on armed forces officers and anyone who joins the planned interim administration. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said further sanctions could follow.

More sanctions from New Zealand
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark announced further measures on Wednesday, suspending aid and new immigration applications from Fiji, and banning sporting contacts.

"They must cease their disgraceful acts and restore the legitimately elected government, or suffer the consequences of their grossly illegal acts," Clark said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan strongly deplored the coup and demanded the elected government be immediately restored to power, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding that Fiji may not be welcome to contribute to future peacekeeping operations.

Bainimarama announced Tuesday he had seized control by assuming some powers of President Ratu Josefa Iloilo and using them to dismiss Qarase and appoint Dr. Jona Senilagakali, a military medic with no political experience, as caretaker prime minister.

Bainimarama said he would ask Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs, which has constitutional authority to appoint the president and vice president, to restore Iloilo to the post at a meeting next week so he could install a full interim government that would proceed to elections to restore democracy.

But Ovini Bokini, the chiefs' council chairman, said it had canceled its scheduled meeting next week because of the coup, and that Iloilo had rejected Bainimarama's claim to the president's powers.