The European Commission on Monday cancelled sugar support for Fiji after the Pacific island’s military government refused to hold post-coup elections this year and extended a crackdown on media and critics.
Reuters reported that the European Commission said it had cancelled subsidies worth 24 million euros ($32.37 million) in the absence of any commitment to elections in 2009, as promised by military chief and interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
“I encourage the government of Fiji to fulfil its commitments to the EU so that we are able to reinstate sugar reform payments in the future,” European Commis-sioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel said in a statement on Monday, according to Reuters.
Fiji was plunged into renewed crisis last month after the president reappointed Bainimarama as interim prime minister, less than two days after a court ruled his 2006 coup and subsequent government was illegal.
Reuters said that the Pacific Islands Forum this month suspended Fiji from the 16-nation grouping with immediate effect after Bainimarama extended emergency laws and said there would be no election until 2014 at the earliest.
Fiji’s economy is largely reliant on sugar and tourism, and both have been battered by the hard line adopted by the government, with foreign tourists increasingly staying away. Sugar is an important source of grassroots income and foreign exchange, with around 31 percent of the country’s population reliant on the industry for their livelihoods.
A report in yesterday’s The Australian said the announcement is an especially telling rebuff for Bainimarama because he had just flown to Guyana to participate in a special ministerial conference to plan a new sugar arrangement between the EU and some of its former colonies.
The Australian added that Fiji’s news blackout ensured Europe’s announcement was not published or broadcast through the media on the island.
However, the Australian said that Fiji’s media were able to trumpet that Sharon Smith-Jones, chairwoman of the Fiji Audio Visual Commission, had pledged that the film industry – with support especially from Bollywood in India and boosted by a new 35 per cent tax concession – would help bridge Fiji’s yawning income gap.
Bainimarama toppled the elected government of Laisenia Qarase in December 2006, accusing it of corruption and unfairly favouring the indigenous Fijian majority over the minority ethnic Indian population.
Bainimarama arrived here on Sunday for the ACP ministers meeting on new sugar arrangements with Europe and was received by President Bharrat Jagdeo at the Office of the President.
Meanwhile, a Guyanese group yesterday called on the Fiji military leader to ensure the restoration of democracy on the isle.
The Indian Arrival Committee (IAC) called on Bainimarama to immediately restore democracy through free and fair elections in the Southwest Pacific Ocean state.
While the IAC extended a warm welcome to all the delegates now attending the conference, it said in a release that it also felt it must note the “undesirable situation which currently exists in the Pacific nation of Fiji,” where “a series of military coups from 1987 has led to the marginalization of that country’s ethnic Indian population.”
According to the IAC, the situation in Fiji is a form of oppression of the ethnic Indian population and has led to the suppression of their cultural freedom which must be restored.
The IAC noted that Fiji’s Military Chief, Commodore Bainimarama, an indigenous Fijian, had seized power in a December 2006 coup and became interim prime minister in January 2007. He currently serves in that position.
Since seizing power Commodore Bainimarama had promised to restore democracy following constitutional reform but has excluded political opponents, including ethnic Indians from related discussions, the IAC charged.
The IAC said further that it would urge Prime Minister Bainimarama during his stay in Guyana to learn from what the body described as “the inclusiveness of Guyanese politics and the harmonious cohabitation of its diverse ethnicity.”