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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fiji military chief renews attack on government

SUVA (AFP) - Fiji's rebellious military commander has held a news conference to renew his attack on the government, but stopped short of repeating threats to force the prime minister to resign.

Voreqe Bainimarama, whose threats had sparked fears of a military coup in the South Pacific island nation, was speaking publicly for the first time since returning from abroad on Saturday.

"We (in the military) represent the silent majority of this land and we are tired of getting lied to," Bainimarama told a news conference at military headquarters.

Asked if he was demanding the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase step down, he replied: "What I want is for him to change the direction (in which) we are heading. We don't really want him to resign.

"All he has to do is ... get rid of the corruption and the lies that he and his government are associated with, so we can head towards a better future."

Fears that Fiji could be on the brink of its fourth coup in two decades soared last week after the government tried unsuccessfully to replace Bainimarama while he was out of the country.

"Let me say that the manner in which the government attempted to remove me as head of the military force continues to show the lack of integrity, moral courage and sound judgment which has been the hallmark of Qarase's leadership in the last six years," Bainimarama said.

He accused Qarase's nationalist indigenous government of telling lies about a coup in 2000, which ousted the government of the country's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry.

The military chief had previously repeatedly threatened to force the government to resign, with the main focus of his attacks being a government proposal to offer amnesties to the plotters of the 2000 coup.

Bainimarama was nearly killed in a military mutiny associated with the coup, after he declared martial law and arrested the coup leaders.

Qarase at the weekend said the amnesty plan would be scrapped, a move the military cautiously welcomed.

Bainimarama said he wanted to see the revised legislation with the amnesty provisions removed before giving a response to the move.

He added he was prepared to talk to the government when it was prepared to address the military's demands, which included removing all those linked with the 2000 coup from public office.

On demands that the military should remain subservient to the elected government, Bainimarama said it would be wrong to see Fiji as "democratic in the true sense of the word", after coups in 1987 and 2000.

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