Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pacific leaders to hold Fiji to account

Pacific leaders to hold Fiji to account
20/08/2008

South Pacific leaders have denounced Fiji's interim Prime Minister for snubbing their annual summit.At the opening of the Forum meeting in the Niue capital, Alofi, the leaders said measures would be discussed to pressure the coup leader to return the island nation to democracy. The stern rebukes came as Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama announced this week he would boycott, complaining Fiji was being pressured to hold elections too soon after the bloodless coup he staged in December 2006. He also threatened to withdraw from the forum. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called Bainimarama's boycott a “direct and deliberate slight” and said measures must be taken in response to his “contempt for democracy”. “The challenge for us in these meetings is to uphold and stand firmly behind that principle of democracy,” Rudd said. “Therefore, that means holding to account those who violate that principle.” New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark likened the situation with Bainimarama to that of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the Commonwealth. “It seems a little like the dance we went through with Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth ... Mugabe left rather than face his peers,” Clark told reporters. Earlier this month the Fiji coup leader postponed the March 2009 elections. In a statement sent to 15 other government leaders at the summit, Bainimarama said if the forum continued to insist on Fiji holding elections by March 2009 - a pledge he made to leaders at their 2007 meeting - then Fiji could leave the grouping. “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. Bainimarama told the leaders his government still had to reform what he termed a “racist, divisive, undemocratic and unfair electoral system”.' He said recently elections would be held once the proposed People's Charter of electoral and social reform had been adopted. He hasn't provided a timeframe, however. Tongan Prime Minister Fred Sevele, the 16-nation group's outgoing chairman, said he was disappointed by Bainimarama's decision not to attend the summit. “He tests the strength and relevance of the forum, and as a consequence we will have to address that very issue,” he said. The summit will consider a report from six regional foreign ministers who visited Fiji in July. The report said only a lack of political will was delaying elections in the country, which has had four coups since 1987. Bainimarama attacked the report, which has not yet been made public, saying his government was “dismayed and disappointed” by its contents. The forum meeting wraps up tomorrow.

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