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I am a realist, not racist: Fiji PM

Qarase's remarks were in response to criticism by three NGOs that his recent utterances were racist.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2006 14:07 IST

Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase says he is not a racist, but a realist who refuses to shy away from addressing the "reality of our circumstances in Fiji".

"Inevitably these involve matters of race. It is undemocratic and unhealthy to try and suppress honest and sincere comment about racial issues," Qarase was quoted by the Fiji Times newspaper as saying.

Qarase's remarks were in response to criticism by three non-government organisations that his recent utterances were racist.

The Pacific Centre for Public Integrity (PCPI) had lodged a complaint with police while the Fiji Women Rights Movement and Concerned Mothers Group wrote to Qarase and asked him to publicly withdraw his statement and apologise.

He is alleged to have made the racist remark during a cabinet tour in Rewa last week.

"I was speaking within the context of creating special legislation to address the particular concerns and needs of the Fijian people," Qarase said. "We cannot expect that a government led by a non-Fijian would necessarily feel it important to be pushing for that."

He said that he doubted that if an Indo-Fijian prime minister like Mahendra Chaudhry was leading the nation, he would introduce legislation on customary fisheries.

Indo-Fjians account for around 43 per cent of Fiji's population of over 890,000.

Qarase questioned why people were not criticising Chaudhry and his Peoples Coalition Government on some alleged racist policies he adopted while in power, the report said.

He was referring to the $27 million Chaudhry's government issued to sugarcane farmers and the $28,000 given to canefarmers whose land leases expired.

"Nothing was allocated to other farmers in western Viti Levu and northern Vanua Levu who had also suffered from drought and flooding. This was the racist aspect of that policy," the report quoted Qarase as saying.

PCPI director Angie Heffernan said they were closely monitoring all political parties and not just SDL.

"Politicians have to be responsible and they cannot use race cards to electioneer, particularly when the SDL and Labour both said they stand for multi-racialism," she was quoted as saying.

First Published: Mar 24, 2006 14:07 IST