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Fiji Time: 8:49 PM on Wednesday 20 August

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Britain condemns coup, halts defence aid

1520 FJT
Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Update: 3.20PM Britain has condemned the army coup in Fiji and said it was suspending military assistance to the South Pacific island nation.

Fiji army commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama took over the role of president in a bloodless coup last night, dismissing Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and dissolving Parliament.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman called for all those involved to respect democracy.

"As with all coups we condemn it," he said.

"We are suspending immediately our bilateral military assistance to Fiji and we urge all parties to recognise the sovereignty of the elected government."

A government spokesman said the suspension would mean military training and support from Britain would be halted.

Britain is also talking to its Commonwealth partners, in particular Australia and New Zealand, about further action on Fiji, Blair's spokesman said.

Both Australia and New Zealand have said they will impose sanctions on Fiji's military and New Zealand said it would seek Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett blasted the military takeover as "wholly unconstitutional". Finland, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, called on coup leaders to return power to Fiji's elected government.

"This is a major setback to the process of democracy in Fiji and has damaged Fiji's economy, international reputation, as well as its relations with the international community, Ms Beckett.

Britain joins the US, New Zealand and Australia in cutting defence ties with Fiji.

The United States' $2.5million annual military aid program to Fiji mainly involves US training for Fijian officers and credits for purchases of military hardware.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has joined the chorus of worldwide condemnation with Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for "the immediate restoration to power of the Pacific Island nation's elected government".

"The secretary-general strongly deplores the seizure of power in the republic of Fiji by the military leadership," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Mr Dujarric said the coup could have an impact on Fiji's future participation in UN peacekeeping operations.

There had been no word, however, on the fate of Fijian police and soldiers now working in various peacekeeping assignments under the UN banner.

Fiji has been a significant contributor to UN peacekeeping over the years, although it now has just 275 police and troops in peacekeeping missions, including 223 soldiers protecting UN staff in Iraq.


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