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Fiji govt to hold polls in March 2009

world Updated: May 28, 2008 13:11 IST

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Fiji pledged again on Wednesday to hold "free and fair" democratic elections in March 2009, after months of serious doubt among foreign governments and observers.

Australia, New Zealand, the US and European Union have all called on the regime to honour its commitment to hold elections by no later than the end of March next year, after Fiji's military leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, ousted the former democratic government in a bloodless December 2006 coup d'etat.

Fiji Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau made the commitment when he spoke today to Melanesian Spearhead Group foreign ministers from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands in the Vanuatu capital, Port Vila.

"Fiji is committed to hold a free, fair and transparent democratic election in March 2009," he was quoted as saying in a government statement.

Nailatikau said the volatile South Pacific nation is committed to holding the ballot and has made "significant progress" in preparations for the election.

He said Fiji's Elections Office has been allocated several million dollars for voter registration expected to begin as early as next month.

Bainimarama, Fiji's coup leader, military chief and self-appointed prime minister, first pledged to hold democratic elections at last year's meeting of the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum of South Pacific states.

Bainimarama has said he carried out his coup to oust a corrupt government that used racist policies to discriminate against the country's ethnic Indian minority.