Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fiji must hold elections this year: Clinton

Fiji must hold elections this year: Clinton
08 APRIL 2009, WASHINGTON
(Pacnews)
U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Fiji's interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama to restore democracy to the country and has backed a demand by Pacific Leaders for elections this year, reports TVNZ.
With New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully at her side, Ms Clinton said democracy must not be "extinguished" in Fiji, where the country's2006 coup leader and self-appointed prime minister has said he will not hold elections this year as promised.
"We join New Zealand in encouraging Fiji's interim government to abide by the Pacific Island Forum's benchmarks and timetable to restore democracy to that country," Ms Clinton said.
"We share a common determination that democracy must not be extinguished there," she added.
Commodore Bainimarama promised to hold elections last month, but then said Fiji must first change its racially based electoral system, which he blames for past instability.
Commodore Bainimarama, who is also Fiji's military chief, staged the2006 coup, saying the government was corrupt and soft on the perpetrators of a 2000 coup.
Fiji has suffered four coups and an army mutiny since 1987. It is racially divided with tensions between majority indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians, who control the business center.
Meanwhile, Fiji's women's rights movement has become the latest victim of vandal attacks against prominent citizens who have voiced concerns about the country's military regime.
The organisation's Suva office has been broken into in a targeted attack to steal a recorder used to store confidential information and conversations.
The movement has openly voiced disappointment that Fiji's military government, lead by Frank Bainimarama, has failed to hold an election more than two years after it staged a bloodless coup.
Executive director Virisila Buadromo said she believed the organisation was the target of intimidation.
"Women human rights defenders are often targeted with different forms of intimidation because of the type of work we are engaged in, promoting respect for and protection of human rights," Ms Buadromo said in a statement.The break-in follows a spate of attacks on the homes and cars of six high-profile pro-democracy Fijians over the past two months.The editor of the country's biggest newspaper, the Fiji Times, has been targeted twice, with rocks and unlit molotov cocktails thrown through his windows in overnight attacks. '
The newspaper's office has also been raided several times by police trying to seize confidential documents leaked to the media.
In the latest raid on Friday, police warned Fiji Times journalists against publishing stories of trouble within a government ministry.
Jon Fraenkel, a specialist in Pacific politics and economics at the Australian National University, said the record of intimidation in Fiji was growing.
"It used to be that you could say human rights abuses were confined to the early period after the December 2006 coup," Mr Fraenkel said.
"But in the last few months there have been more attacks again and things are getting very difficult.
"It's true to say that the scale of the crisis in Fiji is a lot worse than many people realise."
The regime appears intent on ignoring a May 1 deadline set by the Pacific Islands Forum to call an election in 2009, saying it wants electoral reforms first and this will take time.
Senior government spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said on Tuesday the country would "not be told what to do by Australia, or anyone else putting their nose in."
Mr Fraenkel said the brightest hope for democracy was formal talks between political leaders to decide the best way forward. However, these were also fraught with difficulties as Bainimarama had threatened to exclude some parties.
"It was our hope but things seem to be turning sour there," the academic said
.....PNS (ENDS)

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