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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:50 a.m., Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fiji's military says no elections for at least 3 years

Associated Press

SUVA, Fiji — Fiji's military-led government today rejected demands from its South Pacific neighbors that it return the country to civilian rule within two years, saying elections cannot be held for at least three.

Pacific Islands Forum states last week demanded that Fiji hold elections within 18 months to two years, and that its military rulers return to their barracks and hand power over to a civilian interim government.

The 16-member bloc endorsed a report condemning the Dec. 5 putsch in Fiji. The report concluded that elections could be held at least a year earlier than the military leader's timetable of 2010.

In its first response to the report, Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau today said the government would hold further talks with forum representatives to "provide the necessary information/evidence ... why we are saying that the elections can only be held after three years."

"This government is committed to the holding of parliamentary elections sooner rather than later so long as the requirements of holding a fair, free, legally constituted and properly held election are met," he said in a statement.

Armed forces commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama drew international condemnation by ousting the elected government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase on Dec. 5, shutting the nation's parliament and imposing a state of emergency that remains in force.

Bainimarama says he will restore democracy through elections to be held in 2010, after he has weeded out alleged corruption and overseen a full review of the electoral infrastructure.

Nailatikau welcomed a forum proposal for a package of financial and technical support for staging elections and setting up an independent anti-corruption commission in Fiji.

Qarase said discussing an election was a positive step, but that a timetable must be set.

Meanwhile, Bainimarama said he did not expect to be invited to a meeting of Pacific leaders due to be held in Washington in May because of the U.S. government's condemnation of the coup.