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Fiji says Commonwealth suspension a necessary sacrifice

world Updated: Sep 02, 2009 12:54 IST

Fiji's military regime said on Wednesday its suspension from the Commonwealth was a necessary sacrifice as it pushed ahead with political changes ahead of elections in 2014.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma earlier announced Fiji had been suspended from the grouping of Britain and 52 former colonies and territories for refusing to schedule elections by October next year.

Military leader Voreqe Bainimarama, who overthrew the elected government in a December 2006 coup, has repeatedly said his regime would not budge from its so-called roadmap to elections by September 2014.

He plans to introduce a new constitution, including replacing the current voting system, which he says aggravates racial divisions between the indigenous majority and ethnic Indian minority in the South Pacific nation.

Bainimarama was in Malaysia Wednesday and acting prime minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau told Radio New Zealand International the suspension was predictable, given that the regime was unable to meet the 2010 deadline.

"Hopefully by the time we get to elections in 2014 all these things can come back as normal, (these are) sacrifices that have to be faced, in order to achieve what we've set out to do," Ganilau said.

"Reforms don't happen overnight, we're talking about major reforms here to the political process," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the suspension was strong message to the military regime to return Fiji to democracy and the rule of law.

"Fiji's full suspension from the Commonwealth, effective today, is the sad but inevitable result of the failure of Commodore Bainimarama to return Fiji to democracy," Smith said.

Australia remained concerned about human rights abuses by the Fijian regime, particularly the reduced independence of the judiciary, media censorship and intimidation of opponents, he said.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said there was little more his country could do to pressure Fiji, but he added it was important for the international community to send a message to Bainimarama.

"As Secretary-General Sharma has said, the decision to suspend Fiji from the Commonwealth was one taken more out of sorrow than of anger," McCully said.

"But if there is one thing that underpins the Commonwealth, it is a shared commitment to democracy, rule of law, and human rights, and Fiji has been given plenty of warnings that it has to show some respect for those basic principles."

Fiji has been suspended from Commonwealth ministerial and heads of government meetings since the coup.

Now it will also be banned from other meetings of the organisation and the Commonwealth Games, and will no longer receive technical aid.

Fiji was suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum in May after Bainimarama broke an earlier promise to hold elections by March this year and the European Union has suspended aid to the military regime.

But Sharma said Commonwealth ties have not completely been cut with Fiji.

Bainimarama's regime has agreed to meet the Commonwealth's special representative to the country, former New Zealand Governor-General Paul Reeves, when he visits Fiji for three days from September 9.