PACIFIC NATIONS IN TALKS TO SUPPORT FIJI GOVERNMENT

SYDNEY, Australia (Australian Broadcasting Corp. Dec. 1) – The nations of the south Pacific will meet today to a send strong message of support to the Fijian government, as the country braces for a military coup.

Military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama has warned the country's Prime Minister [must] bow to all his demands by midday local time (11am AEDT) or face a coup, as the crisis rocking the Pacific nation reaches a new low.

It came hours after Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase agreed to address key points in the military's nine non-negotiable demands.

Mr Qarase had promised to review three controversial pieces of legislation and said he would withdraw them if they were judged unconstitutional.

But Commodore Bainimarama says he wants the Bills dropped altogether.

"If you look at his press statement today and the issues that he came up with, they're very sketchy, and in effect it keeps the impasse going into the next year," he said. "We don't want to do that, we want to end this."

Meanwhile, 15 of the 16 Pacific Island Forum countries are preparing to attend the talks today. Only Tonga is absent because of the recent riots.

The meeting will be chaired by Papua New Guinea, the previous forum chair, because Fiji is the current chair.

The ministers are set to issue what is described as a firm statement supporting the democratic Fiji Government. The aim is to send a regional message to Commodore Bainimarama, saying that all forum countries, not just Australia and New Zealand, are strongly opposed to another military coup.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the meeting will seek a peaceful and sensible outcome to the Fiji crisis.

Mr Downer says the military overthrow of Fiji's elected government will hurt all of the south Pacific.

"It's important for the reputation of the whole of the Pacific," he said. "If the Pacific is to have a reputation for instability and unconstitutional behaviour, including by the military, then that damages the whole region, not just Fiji."

ABC News Online: http://www.abc.net.au/news/ © 2006 ABC. All Rights Reserved

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