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Fiji military halts all meetings of indigenous chiefs as it tightens grip on power

Fiji military halts all meetings of indigenous chiefs as it tightens grip on power

Fiji's military regime took the unprecedented step Wednesday of halting all meetings of the nation's powerful council of indigenous chiefs _ accusing it of failing to accept that the military now controls the affairs of the South Pacific nation.
Military strongman Commodore Frank Bainimarama said while the indigenous Great Council of Chiefs had been allowed to meet despite the nationwide state of emergency in place, they "failed to understand the reality" on the ground."
"I have ... issued directions that as long as the state of emergency is in place, the GCC will not be allowed to sit unless the military gives it clearance to do so," he said.
Bainimarama's move was seen as a further tightening of his grip on power after he took over government, disbanded the Cabinet, banished Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to his home island 300 kilometers (188 miles) north of the capital, Suva, suspended Parliament and dismissed the president and vice president in an armed coup on Dec. 5.
He has since been embroiled in a row with the chiefs, who have challenged his authority to appoint himself as Fiji's president.
A special council meeting ended last Friday with the chiefs clinging to their view that the ousted president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo and his vice president, were still in power and the ousted Qarase remained Fiji's prime minister.
The council, which has strong influence among Fiji's politically dominant indigenous majority, proposed that Iloilo appoint an interim government while military forces return to barracks as soon as a national unity government is in place.
But Bainimarama's spokesman, Maj. Neumi Leweni, said the military had no plans to meet with the chiefs to discuss their proposals.
Bainimarama said a short list of 31 people had been chosen by the ruling military council as potential members of an interim government _ from some 400 who applied to take part in the military controlled administration.
A new government could be in place by the end of January, he said. He also said the state of emergency imposed at the time of the Dec. 5 coup remained in place.
"Let me remind all that the state of emergency that has been put in place ... to assist in our quest for a national audit of the affairs of Fiji with the overall aim of correcting practices and systems that are corrupt," he said. "It is a task we will pursue relentlessly and we intend to see through."
Bainimarama said some organizations and individuals had been taken to the military barracks and questioned about their activities and statements.
"We consider all those who speak out against (the military) as a threat to the course we are taking and they will be treated accordingly," he warned.
His comments followed reports that six pro-democracy workers were questioned at the military headquarters in Suva on Saturday night before being forced to run eight kilometers (5 miles) across the city to remove banners supporting democracy plastered on a suburban house.


Updated : 2021-04-17 11:17 GMT+08:00