FIJI MILITARY REJECTS ORDER TO REMOVE ARMY CHIEF

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Oct. 31) – Fiji remains calm tonight after a standoff earlier today when the military refused to accept a directive from the nation's president [President Ratu Josefa Iloilo] that the Fiji army commander step down.

Although things were tense in the capital city of Suva, there was no sign of trouble within the military.

Neither Government House nor the Government has confirmed the attempt to remove Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama as head of the nation’s military forces.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase visited Government House this morning where it is believed he asked Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi to either dismiss or suspend Commodore Bainimarama.

A directive was issued by the vice-president, but was rejected by the military, which is understood to have re-affirmed its allegiance to the commander.

The Fiji Times has been told the vice-president subsequently withdrew the directive.

It is understood that the government wanted to install Colonel Meli Saubulinayau as commander.

[PIR editor’s note: According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, AustralianForeign Minister Alexander Downer says Australia is very concerned that there could be a military coup in Fiji. Downer said Prime Minister John Howard spoke to his Fijian counterpart again last night about the problems in the Pacific nation. Downer says the Navy is on stand-by if Australians need to be evacuated. In Washington, a State Department spokesman urged Fiji's military leaders to refrain from any actions that could be seen as a provocation or a threat to the government]

An army convoy patrolled the streets of Suva for about two hours this morning at the same time as the Prime Minister was visiting Government House.

A meeting was also held today between the military and the police to settle a dispute over a shipping container load of M-16 bullets imported by the military.

Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes refused to allow the container to clear the docks for fear the military would use it to destabilize the government.

A press conference has been called for tomorrow morning at which it is expected the police and military will announce that an agreement has been reached on the munitions.

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