PRIME MINISTER EXILED TO REMOTE VANUA BALAVU

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Dec. 6) – Fiji's military has reportedly flown overthrown Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase out of the capital, Suva, as global condemnation mounts over its commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama's bloodless coup.

New.com quotes local radio as saying Mr Qarase had left Suva for his island home in Mavana Village, Vanuabalavu, at about 4.30am today, having spent the night under house arrest.

[PIR editor’s note: Vanua Balavu is a group of six islands in the Lau Group, northeast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. ]

Mr Qarase last night called on Fijians to fight for democracy after the military finally ousted him.

And New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said this morning: "I think the fate of Fiji now is very much in the hands of the Fiji people.

"The military commander's whole strategy is based on people just accepting this passively and letting life go on, but I think there are signs across Fiji society, from the Grand Council of Chiefs to the church leaders, the NGOs, the head of the Public Service Commission, the incredibly brave statement of the acting commissioner of police yesterday, people do not like what they see."

After months of threats and an escalating military campaign, Commodore Bainimarama yesterday confirmed what Fijians knew was inevitable - that he had overthrown the Government.

The US has already reacted by cutting off millions of dollars in aid, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he "strongly deplores" the military action.

He called for "the immediate reinstatement of the legitimate authority in Fiji and its return to constitutional rule through peaceful means and inclusive dialogue".

The US State Department said: "We do not view this as something that is irreversible, so we would call for those forces who are attempting to seize control of the Fijian government to stand down and to return to constitutional."

Spokesman Sean McCormack said US aid to Fiji was being cut off in light of the coup, as required by US legislation.

"We have suspended assistance," he said.

Commodore Bainimarama last night told the nation he had temporarily taken over presidential powers to dismiss Mr Qarase and appoint an interim prime minister, Dr Jona Senilagakali - a doctor with no political experience.

He said he was acting with "great reluctance", insisting his hand had been forced after Mr Qarase defiantly refused an appeal by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to resign.

And in an appeal aimed at Fiji's neighbours, including Australia and New Zealand who have so vehemently opposed another coup, he said: I plead to the international community to first learn and understand the situation in Fiji before you take action."

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