8 Apr 2009

Fiji must hold elections this year - Clinton

4:03 pm on 8 April 2009

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Fiji's coup leader on Tuesday to restore democracy to the country and backed a demand by South Pacific leaders for elections this year.

With New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully at her side in Washington, Mrs Clinton said democracy must not be "extinguished" in Fiji.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who led the coup in 2006 and appointed himself prime minister, has said he will not hold elections this year as promised.

"We join New Zealand in encouraging Fiji's interim government to abide by the Pacific Island Forum's benchmarks and timetable to restore democracy to that country," Mrs Clinton said.

"We share a common determination that democracy must not be extinguished there."

Commodore Bainimarama promised to hold elections in March, but then said Fiji must first change its racially based electoral system, which he blames for past instability.

Commodore Bainimarama, who is also Fiji's military chief, staged the 2006 coup, saying the government was corrupt and soft on the perpetrators of a coup in 2000.

Fiji has had four coups and an army mutiny since 1987. The Pacific nation is racially divided with tensions between majority indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians, who control the business centre.