Fiji strongman challenges Commonwealth to suspend membership

March 5th, 2009 - 11:46 am ICT by IANS  

Wellington, March 5 (DPA) Fiji’s military strongman, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, defied Thursday an ultimatum from the British Commonwealth to hold elections this year and challenged the 53-member organisation to suspend his country’s membership immediately.
A group of ministers from Commonwealth countries meeting in London Wednesday said Fiji would be suspended in September if Bainimarama, who has ruled the South Pacific nation since seizing power in a bloodless coup in December 2006, did not restore democracy.

In an interview with Radio Tarana in Auckland, Bainimarama, who appointed himself prime minister after taking power, said the Commonwealth should go ahead and suspend his country now.

He said he was expecting a call from Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma in the next few days, adding: “I will tell him in no uncertain terms nothing’s going to change.”

“If they want to suspend Fiji, they can do it now,” he said. “No one is going to interfere in what we are trying to do, not New Zealand, not Australia, not anybody else. Nothing is going to be done. There’s going to be no election.”

Bainimarama has consistently said that he wants to change the voting system which favours indigenous Fijians over the ethnic Indian minority before holding fresh elections.

He blames the system for four coups which have toppled elected governments in Fiji since 1987, damaging the economy and scaring off badly needed investment capital.

New Zealand, Australia and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Fiji, including withholding financial aid, following the last coup.

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