SECURITY BEEFED FOR CONTROVERSIAL FIJI BILL

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, June 2) – Fiji police have heightened security to prevent disruptions to parliamentary proceedings during the second reading of the government’s controversial "Reconciliation and Unity Bill" today.

Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes said they were aware of the controversy surrounding the Bill and were prepared to maintain law and order to the best of their ability.

"We have heightened our security presence from this week because we are aware of the controversy this Bill has generated," he said. "We are capable of managing the situation. We don't expect any problems but are prepared in case anyone tries to disrupt parliamentary proceedings."

The NGO Coalition on Human Rights has organised a protest opposite the Police Training Centre at Nasova, Suva, before the second reading of the Bill today.

The protest comes after 15 military officers sat in on the tabling of the Bill in Parliament on Tuesday - a move that frustrated Home Affairs Minister Josefa Vosanibola.

Mr Vosanibola yesterday labelled military commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama "arrogant," saying he must draw the line.

He said he had called for a meeting with Commodore Bainimarama and Mr Hughes this afternoon. Mr Vosanibola said Commodore Bainimarama was the only army commander in the Commonwealth who was interfering in political affairs of the Government.

"Fiji is the only country in the Commonwealth that's doing that," he said.

A Government spokesman said Commodore Bainimarama was likely to be disciplined because this was clearly stated in the Constitution.

But Mr Hughes said military personnel had the same rights as any other citizen. He said anyone was entitled to express his or her views on any matter, because Fiji was a democracy as long as it was done within the rule of law.

"It was a non-violent, peaceful attendance. Military personnel have the same right as ordinary citizens," he said.

Mr Hughes said the police and military would express their views on the Bill to Mr Vosanibola this afternoon.

"We would like to express our views in respect of the impact of the Bill on our work. He's the minister responsible for national security and it's our role to advise him on such matters," he said. "He then has the right to entirely accept the advice or reject it. We could not meet earlier because of our busy schedules."

Mr Hughes cautioned people on the type of language they used with respect to the Bill, saying it could stir trouble.

Yesterday Attorney-General Qoriniasi Bale called on the Public Service Commission to investigate why military officers were sent to Parliament in Suva during working hours and in uniform.

Mr Bale said the military's presence in Parliament did not intimidate the Government, because the public gallery was meant for people interested in proceedings of Parliament.

But, he said, the PSC and the Home Affairs Ministry should question the army. Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola said the 15 officers present at the first reading of the Bill should have worn civilian clothes to avoid drawing public attention to themselves.

Mr Tavola said most people were concerned over the step taken by the army, but the international arena saw the situation as democracy in action.

He said the military had to respect the democratically elected Government and allow them to run the country. He said as an arm of the Government, the military must take advice from the Government instead of publicly voicing its opinion on political affairs.

"Most people are concerned that the military is interfering with the Government," he said.

June 2, 2005

Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com.

 

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