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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Aug 16) – Fiji’s next general election will be held on March 13, 2009, interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama said yesterday.

"It's a matter of the kind of work to be done to be able to accomplish that time line," he said.

He said the date was subject to change, based on whether the necessary preparatory work would be completed in time.

He said this was contingent on how best Fiji could achieve an independent, free, fair and transparent elections by that time.

On the Pacific Forum Islands meeting in Tonga in mid-October, the commander maintained he would attend.

"Yes, I'm going to Tonga. No one's going to stop me from going to Tonga," Commodore Bainimarama said yesterday. "I understand (New Zealand Prime Minister) Helen Clark doesn't want to talk to me.

"I really don't want to talk to her, not unless she's inviting Major Leweni to be her Minister for Foreign Affairs.

"I really have nothing to say to Helen Clark."

On Monday, a statement from Tonga's Public Enterprises and Information Minister Afu'alo Matoto, said the kingdom was sending out official invitations to the Forum without discrimination to all leaders of Pacific Forum countries to attend the annual meeting there. "The Tonga Government welcomes the attendance of all Pacific Forum leaders, and looks forward to a most productive and fruitful discussion of the common challenges and opportunities that face all of our island countries,'' the statement said.

Permanent secretary in the Prime Minister's Office Parmesh Chand said they were happy with Tonga's decision and that it was in line with the Forum's tradition that all leaders be invited to attend. He said it was more so in this case because Fiji was a founding member, with a number of other island countries, including Tonga, and thus it had a special place in the Forum.

Mr Chand said when the time drew closer, they would draw up Commodore Bainimarama's itinerary and program.

Ms Clark and her Australian counterpart John Howard have been demanding that Commodore Bainimarama not be invited to the 16-nation summit.

Commodore Bainimarama said former Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes should not be commenting on Fiji because he was now a United Nations personnel.

"You can't be a member of the United Nations and speak out against the sovereignty of a country," he said.

"There's a conflict of interest here; he needs to clam up or do something else."

Commodore Bainimarama said Mr Hughes left the country because he was afraid of remaining here.

"He left because he was scared of staying around," he said. "He left the police force high and dry and he took off. They did not have any leadership.

"And people wonder why the morale of the police force was down in the last couple of months, it was because Andrew Hughes stood up and ran."

Commodore Bainimarama said Mr Hughes' loyalty was to the Australian Government and not to Fiji when he took up his post as Commissioner.

He said Fiji had no place for Mr Hughes or for leaders who left their men.

"I think at the end of the day, we found out when he left that he really brought the Australian agenda into the police and into the security service."

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