Fiji military stages coup, fourth in 20 years

Fiji’s military chief said on Tuesday the army had taken over the country, plunging the South Pacific island nation into its fourth coup in 20 years.

“As of six o’clock this evening the military has taken over the running of the government and the country,” Commander Frank Bainimarama told a news conference in Suva, the capital.

Bainimarama had repeatedly threatened to topple Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s government, which won a second five-year term in May, claiming it was corrupt and soft on those behind Fiji’s last coup, in 2000.

Before his announcement, heavily armed troops had erected roadblocks around Suva and surrounded the prime minister’s residence.

Qarase said earlier on Tuesday he was under house arrest.

Fiji’s building political crisis has alarmed South Pacific neighbours, with Australia sending three warships in case it needed to evacuate holidaying nationals. Bainimarama has warned that his soldiers will oppose any foreign intervention.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Qarase telephoned him on Tuesday morning to seek Australia’s intervention.

“I did not think it was in Australia’s national interest to become involved. The possibility of Australian and Fijian troops firing on each other in the streets of Suva was not a prospect that I, for a moment, thought desireable,” Howard said.

Australia issued an upgraded travel advisory on Fiji, saying: “If you are in the capital, Suva, and concerned for your safety, you should consider leaving.
Political tensions could lead to mob violence and civil disorder.” - Reuters

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