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Target elections by March, 2009, or risk suspension

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Aug. 21, 2008) - The Pacific Island Forum leaders have issued a last warning to Fiji to work towards elections by March, 2009 or risk suspension.

According to the New Zealand Herald website, the 15 leaders broke from their retreat at the Forum in Niue today to unanimously state Fiji must work toward elections by March.

This after Fiji’s interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama backed down from promises last year to hold elections by March.

The report said if Fiji fails to work towards elections with the help of other countries, it risks being suspended from the forum at a special meeting of the leaders at the end of this year.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said considering suspension of a country was an unprecedented move for the Pacific Forum.

The Forum chair Toke Talagi said it was important for the forum to maintain its integrity as a regional organisation

Earlier this month the Fiji coup leader postponed the March 2009 elections.

In a statement sent to 15 other government leaders at the summit, Bainimarama said if the forum continued to insist on Fiji holding elections by March 2009 - a pledge he made to leaders at their 2007 meeting - then Fiji could leave the grouping.

"I will be compelled ... to tell the people of my country that they must now be prepared to suffer more sanctions, and international isolation as we pursue ... a better, more durable democracy," he wrote.

Bainimarama told the leaders his government still had to reform what he termed a "racist, divisive, undemocratic and unfair electoral system."

He said recently elections would be held once the proposed People’s Charter of electoral and social reform had been adopted. He hasn’t provided a timeframe, however.

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