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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Feb. 26) – Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has called on Fiji's military chief to stay out of politics ahead of elections here.

A similar call by Downer last year provoked a testy response from Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports Downer said on Friday that Bainimarama should leave politics to the politicians and let the people decide.

"He's the military commander and his job is to command the military force, not to run the politics of Fiji," Downer told reporters in Wellington. "It's not the job of the military to run the government."

He made the comments after talks in Wellington with New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who met with Bainimarama in Fiji earlier this month.

Bainimarama has strongly opposed Fiji government legislation, which could forgive 2000 coup participants and even threatened to remove the administration.

Despite an agreement last month to voice his concerns to the government first, the military boss has continued to publicly criticize moves to get the Unity bill passed.

"People can have whatever opinions they like on the laws but in the end the parliament should make those laws not the military," Downer said.

He warned against another military takeover of Fiji.

"If the military decided to take over again in Fiji it would be devastating for the Fijian economy and it will be devastating for its international relationships. Australians go to Fiji for holidays in vast numbers but if the country becomes politically unstable then people will be discouraged from going."

Peters said he had told Bainimarama a democratic outcome was best and there were larger issues at stake beyond the welfare of Fiji's people.

"Such as what the rollover effect would be in the Pacific, even to the extent of the reputation of the Pacific people," he said.

February 27, 2006


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