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Commonwealth likely to suspend Fiji after coup

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The Commonwealth today said that Fiji would likely be suspended from the group of former British colonial territories after a military coup that has been condemned by Britain and the European Union.

Fijian army Commander Frank Bainimarama took over the role of president in a bloodless coup today dismissing Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and dissolving parliament.

''The likelihood of Fiji to be suspended is very high,'' Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon told a news conference in London.

Fiji's suspension would mean the end of technical assistance programmes and could damage its trade.

McKinnon joined a chorus of condemnation for today's coup, the fourth in the South Pacific island nation in 20 years.

''I deplore the actions by Commander Bainimarama and the Fiji royal military defence force,'' McKinnon said in a statement.

''This is a clear attack on the democratically elected government of Fiji, and a serious violation of shared Commonwealth values and principles.

McKinnon said Bainimarama might say the suspension would have no impact.

''But be assured that the relationship between Fiji and the United Nations will change ... Fiji has an enormous number of soldiers in peacekeeping activities in different parts of the world. Those sort of things are affected by this,'' he said.

It would be the second time Fiji has been suspended from the Commonwealth in 20 years. Fiji was suspended after a 1987 coup and declaring itself a republic. It was allowed back in 1997, only to be partially suspended in 2000 following another coup.

''RESPECT DEMOCRACY'' European Union declared its ''strongest possible opposition to actions that undermine the democratic process'' in Fiji.

''The presidency demands that the military forces stand back and give way to the democratically elected political government,'' current EU president Finland said in a statement.

Britain called for all those involved to respect democracy.

''As with all coups we condemn it,'' said a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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

Both Australia and New Zealand have already said they will impose sanctions on Fiji's military.

McKinnon said foreign ministers from Britain, Malta, Tanzania, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, Canada, St Lucia and Sri Lanka and Malaysia would meet in London on Friday to decide whether Fiji should be suspended from the Commonwealth.

''When we are dealing with the issue of a sovereign state, ministers do like to meet face-to-face. There is not a commonwealth country that would like to be suspended by e-mail,'' McKinnon said.

REUTERS SI VC2126

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