The Guardian May 31, 2000


Fiji sanctions have started

Fast moving events in Fiji has seen a military takeover and the 
declaration of martial law as The Guardian goes to press. The 
President of the country has been removed (temporarily, according to the 
military) and "shoot to kill" orders had been given to the military. The 
move is unconstitutional and the military leader, Commodore Frank 
Bainimarama said that "all the nation has been saddened by the extent to 
which the country has fallen during the last week. I have therefore, with 
much reluctance, assumed executive power".

What is not clear yet is whether the military could free the hostages held 
by George Speight's gunmen without bloodshed and without giving in to 
Speight's ever escalating demands.

The past week saw the complete disintegration of the existing power 
structure with the Council of Chiefs agreeing to Speight's demands to sack 
the Prime Minister, pardon the terrorists and change the existing 
Constitution. George Speight also demanded the removal of the President and 
that has also now taken place.

Last week saw the escalation of violence in the streets of Suva  the one 
and only TV station was trashed, a policeman killed, shots were fired with 
two army men and a journalist wounded. 

What is not yet clear is the exact role of the army in this situation and 
its future plans. At the moment there is a general feeling that anything is 
better than what has been happening so far and if the military can resolve 
the hostage crisis, it would have justified the imposition of martial law 
and everything that follows from that.

Sanctions 

Meanwhile the Australian government has worked out a list of sanctions 
against Fiji in response to the continuing detention of the elected Fiji 
government but has not imposed them yet, apart from cancelling the Fiji leg 
of the Olympic torch relay. 

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has already taken action.

The MUA protest bans kicked off on Monday, May 29, with waterside workers 
in Melbourne refusing to handle around 50 containers of general cargo bound 
for Suva.

The containers are being isolated and held together with all other cargo 
arriving on the wharves marked for Fiji.

"We have identified the shipping lines that handle the majority of Fijian 
cargo" said John Coombs, MUA National Secretary.

"So long as the elected government is held hostage, the bans stay", said Mr 
Coombs.

The MUA has also written to Brian McWilliams, International President of 
the US west coast waterfront union, the ILWU, seeking support for the ACTU 
solidarity initiative.

"It would certainly send a message to the international community, for both 
the ILWU and the MUA to combine their resources on this important issue in 
Fiji", wrote Assistant National Secretary Mick O'Leary. "We are available 
to discuss what options may be opened to both organisations to achieve the 
maximum effect in support of democracy in Fiji", Mr O'Leary stressed.

This is not the first time the MUA has instigated bans against Fijian 
cargo. In 1987 all Fijian cargo was blackbanned in protest against the 
Rabuka military coup which toppled the then democratically elected 
government of Prime Minister Dr Bavandra.

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