Fiji unveils democracy 'road map'

Military ruler says new charter by 2013 ahead of polls the following year.

    Military leader Frank Bainimarama has resisted international pressure to hold polls sooner [Reuters]

    The 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum has suspended Fiji's membership and the Commonwealth has threatened similar action by September if sufficient progress towards restoring democracy is not made.

    And the international isolation has hit Fiji's tourism and sugar-export dependent economy hard.

    Leader defiant

    But Bainimarama has defied the pressure to hold elections sooner.

    Since the coup, he has imposed and expanded emergency restrictions, sent troops and police into media and government offices to gag opposition to his reform plans, and had expelled or fired journalists and judges who refused to stay silent.

    The military government threw out the old constitution in April and the cornerstone of the new constitution will be the abolishment of the current split-race voting system.

    Fiji, a former British colony, has experienced four coups and a military mutiny since 1987, fuelled by tensions between indigenous Fijians and economically powerful ethnic Indians.

    Bainimarama has said he wants to rewrite the constitution and electoral laws to remove what he says is racial discrimination against the nation's large ethnic Indian minority.

    The governments of Australia and New Zealand have heavily criticised Bainimarama, calling him a dictator and accusing him of undermining the well-being of Fiji's 800,000 citizens.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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