Fiji was facing the prospect of suspension from the Commonwealth today after a military coup was staged in the South Pacific island.
Commonwealth ministers from Britain, Malta, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Canada, Malaysia and other countries were deciding on Friday whether to suspend Fiji from the organisation, which provides assistance in trade, redevelopment and international forums, Secretary-General Don McKinnon said.
“The likelihood of Fiji being suspended is high,” McKinnon said.
Fiji’s military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, had earlier announced he had taken control of the country from the elected government, confirming the nation’s fourth coup in less than two decades.
“I deplore the actions by Commodore 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 McKinnon.
“This is a clear attack on the democratically elected government of Fiji and a serious violation of shared Commonwealth values and principles.”
McKinnon 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.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark told Parliament defence ties with Fiji were being suspended and Fijian officers and their families would be banned. Bainimarama is believed to have children studying in New Zealand.
“This is an outrage what is happening in Fiji today,” Clark said.
Britain suspended its military assistance to Fiji, although it has no troops in the country. A number of Fijian cadets train each year at Britain’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
The ousted prime minister said the military coup in Fiji has “raped our Constitution” and will send the South Pacific country’s tourist-dependent economy crashing,
“The actions they’ve have taken ... are unconstitutional and what the military has done is raped our Constitution,” Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said.
“They have brought shame to the country ... and all right-thinking people should stand up and fight for our democracy – by peaceful means of course,” he said.
Military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama had declared this morning that the military had taken control of the government in Fiji and that Qarase, elected in May, had been dismissed.
He said a caretaker prime minister had been appointed, and a full caretaker government would come later before elections to restore democracy.
Qarase said the caretaker government would be “totally illegal.”
“I have been dismissed,” he said. “Legally, I am still the prime minister.”
He predicted economic sanctions and large quantities of aid would stop flowing to the developing country as a result of the coup.
“The impact on our economy will be huge,” he said, predicting that 50% of the country’s 900,000 people could be thrown into poverty “because of the drastic impact of what has happened.”
Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in 1987 following a coup led by Lt. Col. Sitveni Rabuka. It was readmitted in 1997 after Rabuka made a formal apology to Queen Elizabeth II.
Fiji was again suspended in 2000 after Bainimarama declared martial law and abrogated the 1997 constitution. It was readmitted in 2001.