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Coup deadline extended in Fiji

Fiji's military commander had given Prime Minister Qarase a 24-hour ultimatum to clean up his government or face a coup.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 17:25 IST

Fiji's military has extended its deadline to Monday for the government to meet its demands or be toppled, embattled Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said as he and his ministers went into hiding.

"The deadline has now passed. I have been informed that the new deadline is Monday midday," Qarase said on Friday.

Military Commander Frank Bainimarama gave Qarase a 24-hour ultimatum on Thursday to clean up his government or face a coup, despite winning a series of concessions from the prime minister.

Bainimarama maintained his threat to stage a coup, but said he would not act until after the annual military-versus-police rugby match in the capital, Suva, later in the day.

Smiling and apparently in jovial mood, Bainimarama attended the game dressed in a floral shirt, but his military team was beaten in the dying stages of the game by the police, 17-15.

"When I will do something, I will let the people know," he told Fijian media before the game.

Bainimarama has repeatedly threatened to remove Qarase's government unless it drops three pieces of legislation, including a bill that would grant amnesty to those involved in a 2000 coup.

Qarase has suspended the bills pending a review, but his concessions have not been enough for Bainimarama, who still wants him to remove senior government and public service figures he says were connected to the 2000 coup.

A defiant Qarase said he would not give in to the threats.

"The time has come for the people of Fiji ... and other institutions to stand up for the rule of law and democracy," he said.

"People of Fiji do not want a dictator. We want democracy."

Qarase said he and his cabinet had gone into hiding.

"But we are in total control of government," he said.

Suva was tense but quiet as residents waited anxiously to see if the military would stage the fourth coup in 20 years.

Troops staged a three-hour show of force on Thursday by securing parts of the capital in an early morning exercise.

As night fell over Suva on Friday, troops remained in barracks, except a handful guarding the president's residence.

Qarase said he was considering asking for foreign intervention, and that he believed his military chief was mentally unstable.

"We are dealing with somebody who is completely deranged and unstable so that's part of the problem," he told Fijian radio.

"Yesterday, in the statement I issued publicly, I did say there was no consideration of outside intervention, but things are developing and I will have to weigh the options."

Pacific Island Forum foreign ministers met in Sydney on Friday to discuss the crisis under the same regional pact that enabled Australia to lead a mission into the Solomon Islands.

Australia has sent three naval ships to Fiji to evacuate its citizens in the event of a coup, but Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said no South Pacific nation was planning intervention into Fiji's crisis.

The ministers issued a statement condemning the military's threat, warning a coup would damage Fiji's fragile sugar- and tourism-based economy.

"Such an outcome would be a tragedy for Fiji and would have dire consequences for the international reputation of the region as a whole," Downer said after the meeting.

Australia, Britain and New Zealand have advised their nationals against travelling to Fiji and the UN Security Council has expressed concern.

First Published: Dec 01, 2006 17:25 IST