Commonwealth may exclude Fiji for third time after army coup

FIJI is likely to lose its membership of the Commonwealth in response to a military coup, the group's secretary-general said yesterday.

Commonwealth ministers from Britain, Malta, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Canada, Malaysia and other countries will decide on Friday whether to suspend Fiji from the organisation, which provides assistance in trade, redevelopment and international forums, Don McKinnon, said.

"The likelihood of Fiji being suspended is high," he added.

Fiji's military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, announced on Tuesday that he had taken control of the Pacific country from the elected government, confirming the nation's fourth coup in less than two decades.

"I deplore the actions by Cmdre Bainimarama and the Fiji Royal Military Defence Force in placing the democratically elected prime minister of Fiji under house arrest and assuming executive control of Fiji," said Mr McKinnon.

"This is a clear attack on the democratically elected government of Fiji and a serious violation of shared Commonwealth values and principles."

He said Fiji would lose technical support programmes that have provided assistance on international trade and redeveloping its electoral systems.

Some Commonwealth members announced immediate action in response to the coup.

Helen Clark, New Zealand's prime minister, told her parliament defence ties with Fiji were being suspended and Fijian officers and their families would be banned. Cmdre Bainimarama is believed to have children studying in New Zealand.

"This is an outrage what is happening in Fiji today," Mrs Clark said in Wellington.

Britain suspended its military assistance to Fiji, although it has no troops in the country. A number of Fijian cadets train each year at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in 1987 following a coup led by Lieutenant-Colonel Sitveni Rabuka. It was readmitted in 1997 after he made a formal apology to the Queen. Fiji was again suspended in 2000 after Cmdre Bainimarama declared martial law and abrogated the 1997 constitution. It was readmitted in 2001.

Pakistan, Nigeria and Zimbabwe have all been suspended and restored in recent years.


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