New Zealand premier likens Fiji to Zimbabwe

August 20th, 2008 - 4:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Wellington, Aug 20 (DPA) New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Wednesday the situation in Fiji, whose military ruler has boycotted a regional summit meeting, was like Zimbabwe in the lead-up to its suspension from the British Commonwealth.Clark was talking to reporters at the opening of the annual meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in Niue, which Fiji strongman Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama refused to attend after backing down on a promise he gave his colleagues last year to hold fresh elections by next March.

Bainimarama, who ousted the democratically elected government in December 2006 and declared himself prime minister, sent a letter to the forum saying that he might withdraw Fiji from the forum if it renews its pressure for an early election.

“I will be compelled to tell the people of my country that they must now be prepared to suffer more sanctions and international isolation as we pursue a better, more durable democracy,” he wrote.

Clark said Bainimarama’s refusal to front up to his peers reminded her of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and the eventual suspension of Zimbabwe from the British Commonwealth in March 2002.

Fiji’s attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, hit back from the capital Suva, telling Radio New Zealand, “We are willing to engage in constructive dialogue, not name calling - not calling Fiji Zimbabwe, which is a ridiculous proposition, not calling Commodore Bainimarama Mugabe.”

He said Fiji would hold elections in its time and accused Clark and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who accused Bainimarama of “contempt for democracy” and of “embarking on a neo-colonialist path.”

Leaders of the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum are expected to discuss the Fiji situation when they meet in retreat behind closed doors.

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