28 Apr 2009

Australia firm on Fiji suspension

5:54 pm on 28 April 2009

Australia is sticking to its hard line on calling for the suspension of Fiji from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Fiji has brought the action on itself by suspending the constitution, attacking the independence of judges and curtailing press freedom.

Mr Rudd made the comments after talks with his Papua New Guinean counterpart, Sir Michael Somare, in Canberra on Tuesday.

He says Papua New Guinea is also adopting a strong position on Fiji.

Fiji faces suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum if it fails by Friday to give a date for elections this year.

Censorship orders in doubt

Meanwhile, police in Fiji appear to be defying censorship orders by the interim regime, which two weeks ago ordered the closure of Radio Australia's transmitters in Suva and Nadi.

The police's website is pointing visitors to the Radio Australia site to get up-to-date coverage of events.

The interim regime has enforced strict censorship rules on local journalists and media outlets, which face the threat of closure if the regime deems that they have defied its regulations.

A correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation was deported after the Court of Appeal ruled on 9 April that the interim regime was illegal.

Forced retirements

Many of the thousands of civil servants in Fiji who are being forced to retire this week are likely to struggle with the sudden change.

A presidential decree after the constitution was abrogated forced through plans to lower the compulsory retirement age to 55.

Hassan Khan, director of Fiji's Council of Social Services, says a great number of those ending their working lives will have paid into a pension fund, but many will still find the sudden move difficult to cope with.

Mr Khan says there are no guidance or counselling services in Fiji for people who are struggling to cope.

Economy 'doomed without democracy'

The head of Fiji's Labour Party, Mahendra Chaudhry, says the country's economy will continue to fail unless there is a return to parliamentary democracy.

Fiji's reserve bank recently devalued the currency by 20% in an effort to stimulate the flagging economy.

Mr Chaudhry, who was minister of finance for the first 18 months of the interim government, says the economy has been troubled for the past six months, partly because of the global economic crisis, but other issues need to be tackled.

He says that, at the very least, Fiji needs to be seen to making moves towards a return to democratic rule.