Fiji army stops chiefs from meeting

Influential council of chiefs refuses to recognise military leaders authority.

    Tourists are beginning to return to the South Pacific island nation despite the state of emergency [AP]

    Bainimarama's move was seen as a further tightening of his grip on power after he took over government, disbanded the cabinet, and banished Laisenia Qarase, the prime minister, to his home island 300km north of the capital, Suva.
     
    He also suspended parliament and dismissed the president and vice-president in a coup on December 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 saying that the ousted president, vice-president and prime minister remained in power.
     
    "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"

    Commodore Frank Bainimarama, military commander

    The council, which has strong influence among Fiji's politically dominant indigenous majority, has proposed that Ratu Josefa Iloilo, the president, appoint an interim government while military forces return to barracks as soon as a national unity government is in place.
     
    But Bainimarama's spokesman, Major Neumi Leweni, said the military had no plans to meet the chiefs to discuss their proposals.
     
    Bainimarama said a shortlist 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.
     
    A new government could be in place by the end of January, he said, adding that the state of emergency remained in place.
     
    "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 said.
     
    Tourists returning
     
    Meanwhile, the country’s tourism sector, which was hurt badly in the lead-up and immediate aftermath of the coup, appears to be recovering.
     
    New Zealanders have been snapping up post-coup deals offering up to 50 per cent off accommodation.
     
    A down-grading of New Zealand's travel risk advisory has also boosted interest in Fiji as a holiday destination.
     
    Many of Fiji's tourist operators have reported tourist numbers returning to normal in the past week.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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