Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Peters doubts 2009 elections

Tuesday October 16, 2007

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters has cast doubts on Fiji's efforts to return to parliament democracy while painting a grim picture of the state of the Pacific.

In a speech delivered overnight to the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Peters said the Fiji coup in 2006 remains a key focus of New Zealand's Pacific diplomacy.

"We are deeply concerned by the behaviour of the military regime that installed itself in Suva last December.

"It has created a climate of fear; repressing freedom of expression and other basic human rights.

"While Commodore Bainimarama claims to be working towards a return to democracy in early 2009, we have seen no evidence thus far that would support this claim."

He adds that the images of a tropical Pacific paradise masked a troubling picture of violence and poverty.

"Political unrest and violence remain significant features of the Pacific landscape, as witnessed last year by a coup in Fiji, and riots in the Solomon Islands and Tonga," Peters said.

"Furthermore, in parts of the Pacific, pockets of absolute poverty are growing. The socioeconomic indicators of some Melanesian countries are almost on par with those of sub-Saharan Africa."

The minister said internal volatility, land conflicts, population pressures and ethnic tensions were all driving down living standards.

He said New Zealand was trying to address the problems and welcomed Europe's assistance as well.

He adds that he found the response of the wider Pacific Islands community to events in Fiji encouraging.

Pacific island leaders, including NZ Prime Minister Helen Clarke and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, have gathered in Tonga.

The Fiji coup and tensions in other parts of the Pacific are expected to be part of discussions

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