August 16, 2011

The Australian: Unions and Methodists feel Fiji heat

Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor
From: The Australian
August 16, 2011 12:00AM

FIJI'S military government is stepping up its control of potential opponents, in recent days acting against unionists and Methodists.

It appears unconcerned about any repercussions at the next annual summit of the Pacific Islands Forum, which takes place in Auckland in three weeks.

For while Suva is suspended from the forum, it has seized the chairmanship of the Melanesian Spearhead Group of the larger Melanesian countries.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said yesterday: "I don't think forum leaders will overly dwell on that issue (Fiji)" which was "relatively settled". The government last weekend revoked a permit for a Fiji Trades Union Congress national council meeting, and sent police to disperse delegates. The incident took place during the visit of a delegation from the International Labour Organisation to Fiji to monitor workers' rights.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said: "That this took place while the ILO is actually in Fiji shows the total contempt the Bainimarama regime has for basic human rights, and for the opinion of the international community."

Last week, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni admitted the army had been "monitoring the movements of key figures in the Methodist Church, meetings conducted and information being disseminated".

He instructed the church, to which most ethnic Fijians belong, "not to deviate from the initial agenda agreed to by the PM, upon which he had authorised the convening of their annual church conference" in two weeks.

Colonel Leweni said: "The church leadership has been so engrossed with politics that it has deviated from its core role."

The recent election of Fiji's permanent representative to the UN, Peter Thomson, as one of the 21 vice-presidents of the general assembly meeting that starts next month, will give Fiji a further platform to lobby against Australia's candidature to the UN Security Council in 2013.

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