15 Apr 2009

Fiji military tightens grip, takes over Reserve Bank

9:30 pm on 15 April 2009

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully says it's clear that a military crackdown is taking place in Fiji, and New Zealanders should think long and hard before visiting Fiji at the moment.

First the judiciary were sacked, then came a media blackout and now the Reserve Bank of Fiji has been placed under military control.

Security forces have taken over the bank's premises in Suva, with one report saying that its governor, Savenaca Narube, has been sacked. The work of the New Zealand High Commission, in the same building, has not been affected.

A bank statement says deputy governor Sada Reddy has tightened exchange controls with immediate effect. Standard & Poors analyst Kyran Curry says the aim is to prevent capital flight from Fiji, which already has very low foreign reserves.

Human Rights Commission office closed too

The director of the Fiji Human Rights Commission says their office has been closed by the police, and it has also been confirmed that the director of public prosecutions, Josaia Naigulevu, was advised by his staff not to come to work on Tuesday morning because the office was being taken over.

A reliable source says a Fiji Times photographer and a Fiji Television reporter and cameraman were taken in by the police on Tuesday after they'd gone to Lautoka to cover a protest by lawyers.

And later on Tuesday the Raw Fiji News website reported that internet service providers in Fiji have been ordered not to allow their facilities to be used to spread criticism of the military regime.

The regime has stopped short, however, of forcing the operators to cut off all internet communication with Fiji.

It's for the good of Fiji, says Bainimarama

The military commander and re-appointed interim prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, says there will be many changes in the coming days and weeks and they'll all be for the good of the people and the country as a whole.

But Mr McCully says that taking over the Reserve Bank does nothing for Fiji's ailing economy and amounts to an act of vandalism.

ANZ/National Bank chief economist Cameron Bagrie says the outlook is not good. He predicts Fiji's economy will now implode.

Situation 'spiralling out of control'

After the Court of Appeal ruled last Thursday that the interim regime was illegal under the 1997 constitution, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo sacked the judges, dissolved the constitution, ruled out any election for five years and reappointed Mr Bainimarama prime minister.

Law Society president Dorsami Naidu, who was himself detained by the police on Tuesday morning, has told Radio New Zealand's correspondent in Suva that the situation is spiralling out of control.

Stand fast on forum suspension, Labour urges

Fiji already faces suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum if it fails to name a credible date for elections by 1 May.

The New Zealand Labour Party says it doesn't support economic or trade sanctions, as they target the wrong people, but it's urging the forum to stand fast on its threat of suspension.

Mr McCully says forum members will have informal discussions on Tuesday and Wednesday about whether they should take any action against Fiji.