FIJI PRIME MINISTER UNDER FIRE FOR ‘RACIST’ REMARK

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, March 23) – Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase is under police investigation for an alleged racist comment he made on television during the Cabinet tour of Rewa last week.

[PIR editor’s note: Rewa Province is located in southeast Viti Levu Island and where Fiji’s national capital of Suva is situates.]

The complaint was filed by the Pacific Center for Public Integrity yesterday.

Center director Angie Heffernan said they had accessed the video archives of Fiji Television and viewed the footage shot last weekend.

In the footage she referred to, Qarase is allegedly quoted to have said only a Fijian Prime Minister could understand the concerns of the Fijian people.

Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes said he had referred the complaint to the Criminal Investigations Department, which would assess it.

Heffernan said many other civil society groups had shown their concern towards Qarase's statement.

One such group is the Concerned Mothers Group, the Fiji Women's Rights Movement, and the center and they had written an open letter to Qarase.

"The groups have called on the Prime Minister to withdraw his comment and to publicly apologize to the Fiji-Indian community and the nation for his racist statements," Heffernan said.

Qarase acknowledged receiving the letter from the non-government organizations yesterday but would not comment further.

Heffernan alleged Qarase's comments breached the Bill of Rights and the Public Order Act.

Section 28 of the Bill of Rights prohibits discrimination on the ground of race while Section 17 of the Public Order Act prohibits any statement that can incite racial dislike and hatred of any race and community or promote feeling of enmity or ill-will between different races and communities.

Heffernan said such racist remarks would have been avoided had the Government enacted a Leadership Code of Conduct.

The code of conduct is to regulate the behavior of leaders holding public offices.

March 24, 2006

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