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Fiji accuses regional powers of chequebook diplomacy

RADIO AUSTRALIA NEWS
Pacific correspondent Campbell Cooney
30 Jan 2009


Fiji's military-backed interim government has given its clearest indication yet that it will reject a Pacific Islands Forum ulitmatum to hold elections this year.

"Fiji's position is not going to change," said Fiji's interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

Commadore Bainimarama has also accused Australia and New Zealand of using chequebook diplomacy to win their support.

"They've paid the leaders of Kiribati and Tuvalu, who are our friends, who are our island nation friends - that's what Australia and New Zealand have done," he said.

His comments come after forum chairman, Niue Premier Toke Talagi, reassured the small islands states of Kiribati and Tuvalu that they would continue to be supported even if Fiji was kicked out of the regional group.

Kiribati and Tuvalu rely on Fiji for airlinks, trade and education.

The forum's ultimatum has the unanimous support of all leaders and representatives present at Tuesday's meeting in Port Moresby.

That includes the Melanesian countries of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, who have close ties to Fiji through the Melanesian Spearhead Group, which last year year gave support to the interim government in setting its own timetable for a return to democracy.

Defiant

The Forum has given Fiji a deadline of May to announce elections or face suspension from the regional bloc.

But Fiji's coup leader and interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama responded, saying the Pacific Islands Forum has exceeded its authority by demanding elections by the end of the year.

"It's called sovereignty. Pure and simple," Commodore Bainimarama told Legend FM in Fiji.

Premier Toke Talagi says two years is too long for the military to enforce its will on Fiji's people.

"We have been extremely patient. We are interested in Fiji, as a whole," said Mr Talagi.

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