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Military threatens to jail PM

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

FIJI'S military commander, Frank Bainimarama, has threatened to imprison the country's Prime Minister in the same island jail that holds 2000 coup leader George Speight in an effort to force him to resign.

Speaking on a Fijian-language talkback program on Sunday afternoon, Commodore Bainimarama said Laisenia Qarase and his Government should resign or face removal as part of his so-called clean-up campaign.

Commodore Bainimarama put his pitch to remove the elected Government directly to the people in their native tongue, arguing that the country needed new leadership for the economy to thrive. He called for candidates to apply to be part of a new interim government.

The military commander refused to nominate a date or time when the military would mobilise in the capital, but did not rule out one local report yesterday that troops were expected to be deployed in Suva at 3am (2am AEST) yesterday.

"If the Government does not agree to our request to meet our demands for the sake of the country, then our thinking is that they be removed," Commodore Bainimarama said, according to a translation by the news website.

"Government will be changed. If he does not resign, then we will find a way to make him resign.

"Nukulau (island prison) is a beautiful place to relax and think about what you've done to the country. I just want to say there is not only three ways to remove the Government. There are 5001 ways to skin a cat."

Mr Qarase, who went to church in Suva yesterday morning and spent the afternoon in his office, has insisted he would not resign.

A senior Fijian chief from the island of Kadavu, who has been a key player in efforts to mediate between the military and the Government, said Mr Qarase now had to resign.

Ratu Jo Nawalowalo said he believed President Ratu Josefa Iloilo supported Commodore Bainimarama and that the coup would come to a head yesterday.

"The Prime Minister will have to let go," he said.

"I think the commander is serious about the cleansing process, and I think behind the commander is the President.

"That is what is going to happen on Monday, he will be acting under legal authority."

Fiji resident and convicted Australian conman Peter Foster who is under "house arrest" at a luxury hotel in Suva awaiting a hearing on a forgery charge has switched sides to support Commodore Bainimarama after being closely involved with the Prime Minister's political party before the election.

Foster said corruption in Fiji was out of control.

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