Fiji calls suspension from Pacific Islands Forum ‘regrettable’

May 3rd, 2009 - 2:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Wellington, May 3 (Xinhua) Fiji has described its suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) as “regrettable” as it was done without formal notification and despite its willingness to engage with the forum, according to media reports Sunday.
The 16-nation forum suspended the coup-plagued nation from the regional bloc Saturday for what the forum called its rejection of democracy, freedom and human rights. The PIF had given Fiji a May 1 deadline to announced a date to hold parliamentary elections to avoid suspension from the grouping.

“It is regrettable for a number of reasons. The announcement was made by a press statement without any formal notification by the Forum. It was only at the prompting of the government that a diplomatic note was received this morning,” Fiji’s Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told a press conference in the capital Suva Saturday.

“It is apparent that despite our prime minister (Voreqe Bianimarama) writing to the chair highlighting the change in dynamics in Fiji, the fact that elections cannot and should not be held under an obscured electoral system, and Fiji’s willingness to engage with the Forum taking into account the facts and ground reality, the Forum and its chair has chosen to ignore the circumstances in Fiji and the willingness of our government, the willingness of Fiji to engage in a constructive and meaningful manner,” he said.

Fiji’s suspension was announced in a statement Saturday by the PIF chairman and Niue’s Prime Minister Toke Talagi, who said it was a difficult decision “unanimously made” by all Forum leaders.

It was decided in January that if the Bainimarama-led government did not return Fiji to democratic governance in an “acceptable time frame”, Fiji would be suspended and the leaders stood firm on their decision.

“A regime which displays such a total disregard for basic human rights, democracy and freedom has no place in the Pacific Islands Forum. Nevertheless, we look forward with great hope to Fiji’s earliest possible return to constitutional democracy, through free and fair elections, when we will be able to restore this country to its rightful place among our family of Pacific Islands Forum nations,” Talagi said.

Sayed-Khaiyum, however, blamed Australia and New Zealand for forcing the forum to suspend Fiji.

The statements by the forum “appear to be based on representations made by only a few with political agendas and are reflective of positions taken by the metropolitan powers in Wellington and Canberra”, he said.

“The untenable proposition that elections should be held at any cost immediately, even under a flawed system, is not only patronizing, but demonstrates a lack of commitment to true democracy and sustainable parliamentary representation,” the attorney general added.

In 2006, Bainimarama ousted the ethnic Fijian-dominated government in a coup and installed himself as prime minister, promising to rewrite the constitution and electoral laws to remove what he says is discrimination against the country’s large ethnic Indian minority before holding elections.

Fiji President Ratu Josefa Iloilo announced in early April that elections would be delayed until 2014. He also suspended the national constitution and fired judges who had declared the military government illegal.

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