Exiled Fijian PM Vows to Return to Capital Next Week
SUVA, Fiji – Fiji's prime minister will return within days to the capital, Suva, despite the risk of arrest by the military which recently ousted him in a coup, his aide said Saturday.
"We know we will have a reception party at the other end," Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's personal secretary Sakeasi Ditoka told The Associated Press, referring to troops Qarase expects to meet him at Suva's airport.
Qarase fled the capital to his home island in the Pacific archipelago's north after renegade military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power Tuesday.
The aide said Qarase is taking seriously an arrest threat from Bainimarama.
"We're expecting that too. We know what's going to happen. But we need to come back for everybody's sake," Ditoka said. "The people want their leader among them."
Qarase's vow to return to the fray came after Bainimarama ran want ads in local newspapers Saturday to fill vacant Cabinet jobs as he tries to piece together a post-coup government.
Bainimarama, who appointed himself president after his bloodless power grab, told Cabinet aspirants in the ads that they have until Tuesday to lodge their applications at military headquarters.
Fijian military spokesman Maj. Neumi Leweni said the regime is moving quickly to find "well-versed, well-qualified" people to fill ministerial jobs.
"The deadline indicates the urgency in trying to get qualified people in to help in the running of the affairs of the state," he told state-owned Fiji One News television.
The posts of finance and foreign affairs ministers would not be advertised, Leweni said.
On Saturday, Bainimarama was visiting troops outside Suva on the west coast of the main island of Veti Levu, Leweni said.
Bainimarama had not responded to condemnation Friday over the coup, from the 53-nation British Commonwealth.
A meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in London suspended Fiji from its decision-making councils for the third time in 20 years due to the overthrow of democracy in the coup.
The Commonwealth also suspended its technical assistance programs, which have helped Fiji in revising laws, managing debt, and negotiating with the World Trade Organization.
Qarase told Australia's Nine Network television that "it is a very positive move by the Commonwealth."
Leweni said the suspension had been expected.
He also told Radio Legend that gunfire, heard from the main barracks in Suva on Saturday morning, was part of an exercise and not evidence of conflict within army ranks.
"It was a scheduled exercise and we have a shooting range in the camp," Leweni told the AP.
In Suva, there was little evidence of the political crisis gripping the nation.
Soldiers were playing cricket on a parade ground, and residents went about their business at their usual leisurely pace, as armed troops patrolled the streets in pickup trucks.
Military checkpoints around town let traffic pass without interference.
Some of the government's chief executive officers received reappointment letters and welcomed the chance to continue running the bureaucracy, the Fiji Times newspaper reported Saturday.
Bainimarama has removed a swathe of senior civil servants, including the country's two top police officers, in a campaign he says will weed out corruption entrenched by Qarase.
In the latest sign of internal disquiet, the Fiji Law Society took steps to suspend seven lawyers working for the military for allegedly providing "illegal advice." Suspension is the first step toward barring the lawyers from practicing law.
Bainimarama's coup got the first signs of support outside his military regime on Friday from the country's powerful tribal chiefs.
The Great Council of Chiefs will "come in the next day or two to discuss the situation" with the military, former council chairman Ratu Epeli Ganilau told the Fiji Times.
Bainimarama also received qualified support Friday from opposition leader and ex-prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry.
The coup -- Fiji's fourth in nearly two decades -- was the culmination of a long impasse between Bainimarama and Qarase over bills offering pardons to conspirators in a 2000 coup and handing lucrative coastal land ownership to indigenous Fijians. Bainimarama says the bills are racist.
Bainimarama on Tuesday announced he had assumed presidential powers and dismissed the government. He declared a state of emergency, dissolved Parliament, and threw up a security cordon around Suva. He warned he will use force to quickly put down any dissent.