New Zealand, Australia have evacuation plans from Fiji

August 22nd, 2008 - 2:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Wellington, Aug 22 (DPA) New Zealand and Australia have contingency plans to evacuate their citizens from Fiji in an emergency, New Zealand’s defence minister said Friday, as the Pacific island state’s military leader warned his people of hard times ahead.Minister Phil Goff confirmed after talks with his Australian counterpart, Joel Fitzgibbon, in Wellington the existence of a joint plan to evacuate their people from Fiji if the security situation deteriorated and they were in danger.

“We don’t expect the situation to deteriorate,” he told reporters, “but we would be remiss in our duty not to have a plan in place.”

A summit meeting of the 16-member Pacific Island Forum threatened this week to suspend Fiji’s membership if its strongman, Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama, who seized power in a coup 20 months ago, does not hold fresh elections early next year.

Bainimarama told Fiji’s 920,000 people in an address to the nation that the global economic crisis was worsening and Fiji’s small and vulnerable economy - which shrank by 6.6 percent last year, according to its own central bank - “will be hit hard”.

The European Union is withholding about 38 million euros ($56 million) in aid, including assistance for Fiji’s struggling sugar industry, pending a return to democracy.

Bainimarama accused Australia and New Zealand, the biggest economies in the forum, of having “usurped the moral leadership of the region,” adding: “The Pacific Island countries will need to be vigilant to protect the forum organisation (from) becoming a foreign policy tool of these two countries.”

The decision to suspend Fiji if it does not restore democracy by March was approved unanimously at this week’s summit in Niue. It would be the first time the forum has suspended a member in its 37-year history.

Bainimarama, who claims the government he ousted was corrupt and threatened racial strife by favouring indigenous Fijians over the ethnic Indian minority, has said he will not allow fresh elections until the voting system is reformed.

The existing system ensures dominance of the indigenous race over Indian Fijians and he blamed it for coups that have wrecked the economy four times in the past 21 years.

“We are a sovereign nation,” Bainimarama said. “Each one of us, as the citizens of this country, must now ask, are we going to be bullied and pressured into doing things that are clearly not in our national interest?”

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