Pacific Ministers to Press for Fiji Elections

Foreign ministers from the Pacific region will meet in Auckland to press Fiji's military regime to hold elections by March next year, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Tuesday.

Fiji's coup leader, self-appointed interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, had promised a regional body he will hold elections by the first quarter of next year, returning the country to democracy following the December 2006 coup.

   "The members of the Pacific Islands Forum share a common commitment to helping Fiji return to constitutional government as soon as possible," Peters said ahead of Wednesday's meeting.

   "We will continue to encourage Fiji to build on its preparations for elections, and we all stand ready to assist and encourage this process."

   Peters said he expected members of the forum, which include Australia, New Zealand and 14 Pacific Island nations, would take a united stand in pressing Fiji to meet the elections deadline.

   Bainimarama, who overthrew the elected government of Laisenia Qarase in Fiji's fourth coup in two decades, has been ambivalent about repeating his assurances.

   Fiji's interim Foreign Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau said he was expecting a good reception at the meeting, saying Fiji had been "honest, open and transparent" in its plans for restoring democracy.

   Peters met his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith in Auckland Tuesday for bilateral talks ahead of the regional meeting.

   After the talks Smith said it was important the military regime renewed its commitment to elections early next year and that it made sure the country was ready for them.

   He said Kevin Rudd's Labor government, elected in Australia late last year, would be more open to dialogue with Fiji than the previous coalition government, but it needed to see evidence of progress.

   "There's no point rewarding bad behaviour. Equally there's no point not indicating that we do believe that there can be a constructive dialogue," he said.

   Australia and New Zealand would help Fiji conduct an election but wanted to see the military government appoint an election supervisor and set boundaries for legislature seats, Smith said.

   "It's not as if the interim government hasn't had the opportunity of doing these things," Smith added.

Source: AFP

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