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Fiji political leaders meet to set election course

world Updated: Mar 13, 2009 11:36 IST

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Fiji's military chief Voreqe Bainimarama met leaders of the country's political parties on Friday to set a course for political reforms and elections to restore democracy.

Bainimarama has led a military regime in the Pacific republic since toppling the elected government in a December 2006 coup, the fourth in Fiji in the last two decades.

He has broken a promise to hold elections by this month, saying he first wants to reform the electoral system, which he says aggravates divisions between the majority indigenous Fijian population and the ethnic Indian minority.

The 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum and the British Commonwealth have threatened to suspend Fiji unless Bainimarama sets an election timetable in the next few months.

The meeting of political leaders was called to set the agenda and appoint representatives to a political dialogue forum due later this year to make final recommendations on a new electoral system, the timing of elections and other reforms.

Bainimarama said his regime would not be hurried into elections by international pressure.

"To hold elections under a communally divisive system, for the sake of satisfying some deadlines imposed by outsiders, will not solve the deep seated problems," Bainimarama told the political leaders.

"We cannot be hurried in this endeavour by outsiders giving ultimatums to fit into their own timetable for change."

Bainimarama has accused some of the Fijian political parties of using racial divisions to their own advantage.

"We will oppose, without fear, those who sow seeds of racism, intolerance, divisiveness, hatred and vengeance, in our country," he said.

"We will oppose those who undermine or compromise the independence and sovereignty of our country for their own political, personal or financial interests.