Fiji military strongman tightens grip, boycotts regional summit

August 18th, 2008 - 1:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Wellington, Aug 18 (DPA) Fiji’s military strongman, Voreqe Bainimarama, tightened his grip on the South Pacific island state Monday and announced he would boycott a regional summit where he was expected to defend his refusal to hold fresh elections next year. Bainimarama, who made himself prime minister after ousting the elected government in a bloodless coup in Dec 2006, told reporters he was taking over the post of finance minister and responsibility for national planning, the independent Fijilive website reported.

He also said he would not attend a summit of the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum in Niue this week, where he was expected to explain why he was reneging on a promise he gave his fellow leaders last year to restore democracy with new elections by next March.

New Zealand officials said last week that they would lift travel sanctions imposed on Bainimarama after his coup to allow him to transit through Auckland to attend the summit. Auckland International Airport has the only direct air link with tiny Niue, a self-governing region of New Zealand.

At last year’s forum summit in Tonga, Bainimarama pledged to hold elections in the first quarter of 2009 and to accept the outcome.

He has said since that he cannot hold a new poll in that time frame, but a delegation of forum foreign ministers who went to Fiji last month said “lack of political will” was the only obstacle.

Mahendra Chaudhry - leader of the Fiji Labour Party, who was minister of finance - announced his sudden resignation Sunday along with two party colleagues in the government.

Chaudhry said they were stepping aside to concentrate on the next election, but some reports have suggested that Bainimarama forced him to resign.

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