Rugby match stalls coup
FIJI'S promised military coup has been stalled by a rugby match.
The country's military leader, Frank Bainimarama, yesterday let his noon deadline for the Government to meet his demands slip by because it clashed with one of the major events on Fiji's sports calendar, the annual police versus army rugby clash for the Sukuna Bowl.
The country's Police Commissioner is in Cairns vowing not to quit, but unlikely to ever return.
The Fijian Prime Minister and some of his Cabinet are in hiding and the country's military strong man has stalled a grab for power for the annual police versus army rugby match.
Only in Fiji are coups like this. Nothing here is straightforward.
But Commodore Bainimarama said the Government's failure to meet his demands gave him the green light to take control of the country and start his clean-up. He said he was not in office but in control of the country.
He said his noon deadline slipped by because it was not a day for a coup, but a day for celebrating victory in the rugby clash.
There was some bad news for him yesterday when the police beat his army team 17-15 with a last-gasp penalty goal.
In the streets of Suva, stores have erected steel mesh across their windows and were closed to avoid the violence that erupted in the 2000 coup. That appears unlikely this time.
Commodore Bainimarama said he would sit with the police over a bowl of kava and discuss what needs to be done in his clean-up campaign. He is now expected to take official control of the country tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the Australian who led Fiji's police force, Andrew Hughes, has ruled out resigning, despite threats from Commodore Bainimarama to sack him for seeking to charge him with sedition. But Mr Hughes, who fled Fiji this week and is now on leave, said he could not work under a Bainimarama administration because it would be unconstitutional.
He said Fiji's police were unable to resist Bainimarama.
"There is only so much we can do ... I have already given advice to the government that we cannot guarantee protection," he said.
He said taking on the military would be "suicidal", adding: "There's smarter ways of dealing with this and we're working on that".
Mr Hughes said he thought Commodore Bainimarama's demands were a cover for a hidden agenda.
"There's a lot going on behind this, it's Fijian politics roaring away in the background."
In hiding, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase refused to resign and said Commodore Bainimarama was deranged.
The commodore later brushed aside the claim. "Do I look like I'm mad?"