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Coup can still be averted, says Fiji premier

Laisenia Qarase says he still hopes a coup can be averted through dialogue with rebellious military commander Voreqe Bainimarama.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2006 13:49 IST

Fiji's Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said on Saturday he still hopes a coup can be averted through dialogue with rebellious military commander Voreqe Bainimarama.

Bainimarama has said the military plans a peaceful transition to an interim government after the government failed to respond to a series of demands before a deadline of noon on Friday.

Qarase returned to the capital Saturday and held a 20-minute meeting with Vice-President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, who undertakes many of the functions of head of state for ailing President Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

Bainimarama was also seen at Madraiwiwi's home on Saturday morning, but the military did not release any information on the meeting.

Qarase said the meeting was part of continuing dialogue between the government and the military.

"There will be a fair bit of consultations continuing through the weekend and early next week, I hope.

It is all about trying to resolve the differences that now confront our country," he said in an interview with commercial radio. He said he hoped for direct talks with Bainimarama.

"As for myself, I am always ready and I'm available for direct discussion with the commander, with the participation of the vice-president or not."

He denied the government had gone into hiding on Friday, saying only he and two other ministers had left Suva to consult with Fijians "at grass roots level".

The overwhelming majority of Fijians wanted to preserve democracy and the rule of law, said Qarase, who added the government was continuing as normal.

He also rejected claims by Bainimarama that he was now in control of the prime minister.

"Nowhere in the constitution or the laws of our country does it say the military commander, whoever he may be, is the boss of the prime minister of the country," he said.

Bainimarama was belligerent in an interview published in the Fiji Sun Saturday.

"Qarase had better come out of hiding because right now I'm in control of him," Bainimarama said before the prime minister's return to Suva.

"Qarase should come out into the open and I assure him that he will not be kidnapped or put under any form of house arrest," he said.

First Published: Dec 02, 2006 13:49 IST