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Coup - December 5, 2006

A number of motivations lay behind Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) Commander Bainimarama's coup, some seemingly noble, some not. An unbiased observer would have to conclude, though, that Fiji's situation was not so wrenching as to require illegally removing the Qarase Government. The coup that took place in December 2006 had its roots in the previous 2000 coup and mutiny. When the Qarase government did not accede to all military demands, on December 5, 2006, Bainimarama assumed the powers of the presidency, dismissed Parliament, and declared a temporary military government. Bainimarama launched a swift and peaceful take-over of government. Military road-blocks were erected in the major towns and cities and Qarase, after a brief house arrest, was forced to leave Viti Levu. On 8 December, Fiji was once again suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth.

Commodore Bainimarama was appointed interim Prime Minister in 2007; his interim government pursued what he terms a "clean-up campaign" to root out what he considers to be large-scale corruption in Fiji. A number of civil servants, including the Chief Justice, were summarily suspended or dismissed due to unidentified corruption concerns. Many individuals who spoke out against the coup were taken to military camps where they were questioned and sometimes abused.

Commodore Bainimarama and his senior leadership appear to truly believe that the government of PM Qarase was irredeemably rotten: deeply corrupt, horribly racist, totally committed to protecting those who engineered Fiji's coup in 2000, and intent on forcing through controversial legislation at the risk of dangerous divisions in society. Pretty clearly, the senior RFMF leadership was also intent on countering the efforts of Qarase and Police Commissioner Hughes to confirm the subordinate status of the RFMF under Fiji's Constitution and to bring criminal charges against RFMF leaders for subversion. Thus, to the RFMF leaders, a "clean up" of government was essential, to bring a new, bright future for Fiji; and the aim was to do so without shooting.

In the 6 months after the take-over, a chain of events unfolded, which included the suspension and sacking of key public figures, as well as some resignations. Bainimarama pronounced himself President for a short while, before reinstating President Iloilo. In April 2007, the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) refused to accept Bainimarama's chosen nomination for the role of Vice-President. Bainimarama suspended the GCC. Military figures were appointed to government ministries, and Bainimarama's deputy, Captain Esala Teleni, was given the role of Police Commissioner. The Chief Justice was dismissed and an Acting Chief Justice appointed (outside the scope of the Constitution). Numerous accounts of human rights abuses were detailed by those taken to the barracks for questioning into statements they were known, or alleged, to have made. Newspaper staff were detained and intimidated, resulting in self-censorship by the press. Human rights activists were (largely) silenced.

In April 2007, the EU met in Brussels with the Interim Foreign Minister, Finance Minister and Attorney General to discuss the return to democracy, the rule of law and the release of EU assistance to Fiji. This resulted in a series of Commitments that the Interim Government must meet if the EU was to consider a resumption of financial and technical assistance to Fiji. Key to the commitments was that the Interim Government would hold a democratic election by March 2009.

On 31 May 2007, the Interim Government lifted the Public Emergency Regulations that had been in place (in different forms) since the take-over. This removed from it the authority to take extraordinary measures to ensure public security (including the right to detain those it suspected of 'incitement'). In doing so, the Interim Government met one of its commitments to the EU. (The regulations were imposed again in September 2007, but were again lifted within the timeframe promised by the Interim Prime Minister.)

On 16 January 2008, the Interim Government launched the 'National Council for Building a Better Fiji'. The controversial council was set up as a means of encouraging debate amongst all sectors of society about the problems that have resulted in Fijis recent coup history and ways in which Fiji can overcome those problems and become a peaceful and prosperous nation. Of the 45 seats on the council, 41 were filled, though there were subsequent resignations. A third of the seats were reserved for the military and Interim Government. The Interim Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Fijis Roman Catholic Church chair the Council.

In late October 2008, the Interim Prime Minister invited all political parties in Fiji to a political forum with a view to draw up unified terms of reference for a UN/Commonwealth Secretariat Political Dialogue proposed for December 2008. All invited political parties attended, but the second meeting (8 April 2009) excluded key political partners.

On 9 April 2009, the Fiji Court of Appeal ruled that the removal of Prime Minister Qarase and the appointment of Fiji's interim regime following the military coup in 2006 was unlawful. It advised the President to appoint an independent caretaker Prime Minister, to dissolve parliament and call elections. PM Bainimarama announced his resignation with immediate effect.

On 10 April 2009, President Josefa Iloilo abrogated the Constitution, dismissed the judiciary and reinstated the interim Prime Minister and Cabinet as the new government. The Government put in place Public Emergency Regulations for a 30 day period. This prohibited all gatherings, including political or media related meetings unless sanctioned by a government permit. The government also removed all media freedom. Under this regulation media was restricted from reporting negatively on the government.

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