Coup Blocked, Elections Planned in Fiji
Fiji’s Governor General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau said today that he has refused to swear in coup leader Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka and his ministers and announced plans to call elections in the Pacific island.
An Australian official said Rabuka has accepted the decision, apparently ending a bloodless six-day insurrection that began Thursday when Rabuka and 10 armed men burst into the House of Representatives and took Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra and 27 supporters hostage.
In a statement on Radio Fiji, Ganilau said he met with Rabuka today and told him it would be unconstitutional to swear in Rabuka’s rebel government. Ganilau said he made the decision after consulting with the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
The governor general said in the statement, “In order to bring the crisis to a conclusion,” he is dissolving Parliament and will set into motion a process to hold elections under his authority as the chief executive of Fiji, representing Queen Elizabeth II, the official head of this British Commonwealth nation.
He urged Fijians to remain calm and go about their normal business.
A spokesman for the Australian high commissioner in Suva, Gary Gray, said Ganilau indicated in the statement that he was “appointing a council of advisers to administer the country until forthcoming elections.”
“Further, Rabuka has accepted this decision,” Gray said.
Bavadra’s government, which was voted to power in April elections, was the first Indian-dominated government since Fiji gained independence from Britain in 1970.
Rabuka said he intended to change the constitution so Indians could never again control the country, 2,300 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia, even though Indians slightly outnumber ethnic Fijians.
Rabuka issued a statement over Radio Fiji saying, “If death is to be my fate after this, I will accept it because I would go with a clear conscience, leaving a country where peace has prevailed.”
The radio announcer said Rabuka had issued his statement while addressing 700 soldiers of the Territorial Forces at Queen Elizabeth barracks in Suva.
“The penalty for treason in all Commmonwealth countries is death and, if this is to be my destiny, I will accept it,” Rabuka said.
Meantime, banks reopened today after a one-day closure, and bank officials reported a rush of customers to withdraw funds.