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
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. …