Fiji's Business-as-Usual Coup D'etat ; Personal Feuds and Ethnic Tensions Tuesday Sparked Fiji's Fourth Coup D'?t in Two Decades

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Quietly sobbing outside the official residence of the besieged Fijian prime minister Tuesday, Vani Diani could hardly believe what was happening to her political hero.

"It's just terrible. This is Fiji. We're meant to be a peaceful country and here are all these soldiers frightening people with their guns," Ms. Diani said.

Peaceful, indeed. Four coups d'etat in nearly 20 years have spilled little blood on this archipelago, whose thriving agricultural and tourism sectors makes it one of the South Pacific's wealthiest island nations. But even as Christian hymns and heartfelt prayers were offered outside the premier's home Tuesday, Fiji's elected leader, Laisenia Qarase, could do little to save himself from the same fate as his predecessors.

As in previous military coups, the trouble in this paradise stems from personal rubs among the leadership, as well as simmering tensions between native Fijians and ethnic Indians, who make up 44 percent of the country's population and dominate its economy.

After spending all day under house arrest, barricaded by renegade soldiers, Prime Minister Qarase was summarily dismissed from power by Fiji's maverick military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. The commodore's announcement that he had seized control of the government marks a climax to months of rising tension between the military and the democratically elected government.

Tuesday's slow-cooked coup has undermined Fiji's tourism business, which attracts 400,000 visitors a year and is Fiji's biggest earner. After the 2000 coup, Fiji saw a 10 percent contraction in the economy, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

"The crisis has already affected the tourism industry - our hotels are only 20 percent full," says Virisila Buadromo, head of the Fiji Women's Rights Movement. "What the military is doing is illegal and at the end of the day we'll all suffer from it."

But some observers expect tourism to rebound quickly. Despite an Australian government travel advisory that "political tensions could lead to mob violence and civil disorder," Australia's national airlines, Qantas, reported few cancellations Tuesday. That may point to travelers' business-as-usual attitude toward Fiji's history of coups d'etat.

Qarase says he was deposed illegally and that the coup has made Fiji "a laughing-stock" in the international arena. But Commodore Bainimarama says he was forced to act because the prime minister refused to accede to his demands that Qarase dump controversial legislation and dismiss allegedly corrupt ministers from office.

Six years ago, Bainimarama was credited with rescuing the nation from chaos when he brokered a peaceful resolution to the country's last coup, led by failed businessman George Speight. …