9 Oct 2003

Fiji sports minister again refused entry to Australia

11:19 am on 9 October 2003

Fiji's sports minister has been refused a visa to enter Australia to watch the national team play in the Rugby World Cup.

Isireli Leweniqila was to have accompanied the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, and six other cabinet ministers to watch Fiji play France in Brisbane on Saturday.

The Fiji Times quotes him as saying the visa refusal was due to his court case relating to the May 2000 coup and he will now just have to watch the match on television.

Mr Leweniqila is facing one charge of taking an illegal oath to commit a capital offence and another of engaging in a seditious enterprise, relating to his being sworn in as a minister in George Speight's failed administration.

He says he lodged his application for an Australian visa two months ago but it was rejected.

He says he then reapplied through the ministry of foreign affairs but the Australian High Commission maintained its initial decision.

Meanwhile, Fiji's taxpayers have been told they will not have to pay the bill for the prime minister and six cabinet colleagues to travel to Australia to watch the game

The permanent secretary in the prime minister's office, Jioji Kotobalavu, has told the Daily Post newspaper that the prime minister and his ministers are travelling to Brisbane at the invitation of the national airline Air Pacific.

He says the airlines offer to fly the cabinet members to Brisbane for the game is part of its sponsorship of Team Fiji.

Earlier, labour minister, Kenneth Zinck had claimed that the MPs accompanying Mr Qarase to the match had paid their own way there.