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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Attempt to avert Fiji’s fourth coup underway in New Zealand.

Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has begun crisis talks with the country's defiant military chief in New Zealand to avert a fourth coup in 20 years in the South Pacific island nation.

"There is anxiety, there is fear among the population. The future of Fiji really depends on Frank and I today," Mr Qarase told Radio New Zealand before the talks in the New Zealand capital Wellington.

Commander Frank Bainimarama has repeatedly threatened to remove Mr Qarase's elected government unless it drops several pieces of contentious legislation, including a Bill that would grant amnesty to those involved in a coup in 2000.

The New Zealand-brokered talks were announced on Tuesday, only hours before Commander Bainimarama was to return to Fiji from New Zealand amid fears that a coup would be launched within days.

Armed soldiers have been patrolling the streets of the Fijian capital Suva all week, while others guard the President's residence.

Hundreds of army reservists have been recalled for unscheduled exercises across the island nation.

Fiji has suffered three coups since 1987 and Commander Bainimarama was almost killed in a failed mutiny linked to the 2000 coup.

Mr Qarase, who flew from Fiji to New Zealand on Tuesday, said he was entering the talks with an open mind. "There could be room for manoeuvring. That is what I hope to explore," he said.

Commander Bainimarama issued Mr Qarase a list of "non-negotiable demands" and a two-week deadline before he left for New Zealand last week, at the same time threatening a "clean-up" of Mr Qarase's government.

On Tuesday, Commander Bainimarama remained defiant. "It's very simple. He (Qarase) comes with a yes or a no to our demands, full stop," he told a New Zealand Indian community radio station. "This meeting's going to be the shortest meeting he's ever attended in his life."

Fijian police are investigating whether Commander Bainimarama should face sedition charges over his threats. Many Fijians believe laying charges would be a flash point in the crisis.

Australia, New Zealand and Britain have warned their citizens to avoid travelling to Fiji, saying that security could deteriorate rapidly.

A meeting of South Pacific foreign ministers will be held in Sydney on Friday in a bid to find a diplomatic solution.

Source:ABC News.

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