Military government tightens control in Fiji (Lead)

April 14th, 2009 - 4:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Wellington, April 14 (DPA) Fiji’s military government, which is ruling with emergency powers after sacking the judges and imposing a news blackout on local media, defied international critics and tightened its grip on the Pacific island country Tuesday.
It took over the Reserve Bank to stop a flood of capital leaving the country, assumed control of the public prosecutions office, closed the Human Rights Commission and kicked out foreign journalists to stop them reporting what was happening, according to reports from the capital Suva.

As New Zealand and Australia, who provide most of the tourists that are Fiji’s biggest industry, warned their citizens to reconsider going there during the current Easter school vacation, military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama assured his people all was well.

“Commodore Bainimarama said that there will be many changes brought about in the coming days and weeks, which will be all for the good of the people and the country as a whole,” a statement on the official government website said.

Despite muzzling the local press under emergency regulations that forbid criticism of his government, Bainimarama gave an assurance “that the people will be kept fully informed of the changes being brought about through regular dissemination of information and the reaching out to communities by ministers and civil servants”, the statement said.

Reports said the army had taken over the Reserve Bank and its governor, Savenaca Narube, had been sacked while the director of public prosecutions, Josaia Naigulevu, was advised by his staff not to come to work Tuesday morning because the office was being taken over.

The Fiji Human Rights Commission was ordered not to open its office in Suva following the Easter holiday, the independent Fijilive website reported.

The Australian Broadcasting Commission’s veteran Pacific affairs reporter Sean Dorney and New Zealand TV3 reporter Sia Aston and her cameraman were escorted to aircraft leaving Fiji Tuesday after being ordered out of the country.

A local Fiji One television reporter, identified by colleagues as Edwin Nand, was arrested, reportedly for transmitting overseas news material about the sacking of the judges on the Court of Appeal who ruled last week that the government Bainimarama established after his bloodless coup in December 2006 was unlawful.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the Pacific Islands Forum was certain to expel Fiji and the British Commonwealth was bound to follow suit following Bainimarama’s refusal to hold elections before 2014.

But he told reporters it was difficult to expand current sanctions, which ban visas to Bainimarama and his supporters, without hurting Fiji’s population of about 837,000 mainly poverty-stricken people.

“We can’t make them hold elections, we can’t stop them wrecking their country if that’s what they are intent on doing,” he said.

“There are all sorts of signs that Commodore Bainimarama is intent on wrecking his country before giving into the wishes of the international community.”

Census figures showed that 25,000 Indians left the troubled country from 1996 to 2007 while the number of indigenous Fijians rose by more than 82,000.

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