Monday, November 08, 2010

Australian leaders welcome US pressure on Fiji

Australia Network News - 08 Nov 2010 

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says it is important for Australia and the United States to work together to keep the pressure on the Fijian government to hold elections.

The Fijian Leader Commodore Frank Bianimarama has promised elections in 2014.

The United States has stepped up contact with Fiji in recent times in a bid to counter China's rising influence in the region, and will open a new embassy in Suva soon.

But Ms Gillard says she's  encouraged by a commitment from the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to keep pressure on the regime for a return to democracy.

"It's important to us, to the US, to the world generally that we keep working together to maximise pressure on Fiji, to give the Fijian people the appropriate opportunity to go out exercise a vote and pick their government," she said.

Ms Gillard is meeting Mrs Clinton today in Melbourne, joined by the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith.

Ahead of those talks, Mr Smith gave an extended interview to the ABC, in which he rejected suggestions that US efforts to build influence in Fiji might undermine Australia's policy of isolating the military regime in Suva.

"I wouldn't analyse it or characterise it in that way," he said.

"Australia's been working very closely with our neighbours in the region, through the Pacific Islands Forum to try to bring Fiji to account and to return Fiji to democracy and an election.

"We've also been working very closely with the United States and the European Union and other interested members of the international community, so I don't see any parting of the ways there."

Mr Smith said Fiji's response to external pressure so far had not been encouraging.

"Commodore Bainimarama has not been responding positively to the urgings either of the Pacific Island Forum, Australia, New Zealand or the United States to return to democracy," he said.

"It is very important that that occurs because Fiji should be a pre-eminent nation in the Pacific.

"Its economic and social circumstances have declined significantly and we are very worried about the ongoing deleterious circumstances for their people."

At the weekend, Mrs Clinton said Washington would work with Australia and Asian nations in a bid to persuade Suva to restore democratic government.

She said that process would need to involve giving Fijians greater political freedoms.

"We are going to be working together with Australia to pursuade the military government in Suva to meet its commitment to bring democracy back to Fiji," she said.

"In the short term we would like to see steps that advance political freedom such as allowing professional civilians to return to return to key government ministries."

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