FIJI PRESIDENT CANCELS MIDDLE EAST TRIP

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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Feb. 1) - Fiji’s President has cancelled his trip to the Middle East due to the high risk of violence following the Islamic militant group Hamas’ surprise win in the Palestinian elections.

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo was scheduled to leave the country today.

His official secretary Rupeni Nacewa says the trip has been called off, reports Fiji Television.

Ratu Iloilo, whose five-year term expires on March 13, was to visit Fiji peacekeepers in the Middle East.

Fiji soldiers were called in by the United Nations to monitor the Lebanese border with Israel in 1978 and have been in the Middle East since. Fiji soldiers are now only serving in Sinai.

Hamas' victory poses problems for efforts to restart peace talks with Israel, analysts say. Israel has called on the European Union - the biggest financial donors to the Palestinian Authority - to oppose the creation of a "terrorist government."

The Middle East "Quartet" - the US, UN, EU and Russia - issued a statement last week, calling on Hamas to renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist.

US President George W Bush said Washington would not deal with Hamas unless it rejected its call to destroy Israel. Bush warned US aid, worth US$400m, could be cut following Hamas' surprise poll win in the first Palestinian parliamentary elections for 10 years.

Hamas took 76 out of 132 seats last week - leaving the ruling party Fatah with 43 this time around.

Branded a terrorist organization by Israel, the US and the EU, Hamas is seen by its supporters as a legitimate fighting force defending Palestinians from a brutal military occupation.

February 2, 2006

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