Elections in doubt, says Fiji leader

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Fiji’s interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has declared elections may not be held in 2014 because of strained relations with Australia and New Zealand.

He is expelling Australia’s high commissioner to Fiji, Sarah Roberts, who is the second official from Canberra to be deported in the past eight months.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says she is gravely concerned about the way Fiji operates outide the international community and called the expulsion uncalled for.

Commodore Bainimarama told Radio Tarana a lot is at stake because of the deteriorating relationship, and without help from Australia and New Zealand, Fiji may not be ready to hold elections in 2014.

He said Australia has also been using its economic clout to undermine Fiji’s good relations with its nearest neighbours in the Pacific.

Confusion

This comes after a key regional meeting in Fiji was cancelled because of concerns that Commodore Bainimarama was to chair the organisation.

Other reports say confusion surrounds the cancellation of the Pacific leaders’ meeting – after Prime Minister Bainimarama said a gathering would still go ahead.

A Fiji Government spokesman had said high commisioner Roberts and the Australian Government have been undermining Fiji’s economy and its relations with other Pacific nations.

He says Australia has used its clout to stop Pacific leaders attending the Melanesian Spearhead Group because of Commodore Bainimarama’s pending rise to the chairmanship.

But Commodore Bainimarama, who is attending a meeting of the International Monetary Fund in South Korea, said later the meeting will go ahead, although on a smaller scale.

Samoa’s Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat he would not be surprised if no one turns up for the new Bainimarama meeting.

The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith said he was not surprised the Fiji regime was threatening to call off elections in 2014.

But Mr Smith told the ABC’s Australia Network that Australia would not give up on encouraging Fiji to hold elections.