July 31, 2009 / 7:44 PM / 8 years ago

Commonwealth sets September 1 ultimatum for Fiji

LONDON (Reuters) - The Commonwealth will suspend Fiji on September 1 unless the South Pacific island nation re-activates a multi-party political forum intended to pave the way for a national election.

<p>Fiji's Military Commander Frank Bainimarama delivers a statement to news media at Queen Elizabeth Barracks in the nation's capital Suva December 7, 2006. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne</p>

A group of Commonwealth foreign ministers, which deals with violations of the organization’s rules on democracy, held an extraordinary meeting in London on Friday to consider the situation in Fiji.

“The group noted that Fiji’s situation with regard to fundamental Commonwealth values had deteriorated strikingly since March,” the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group said in a statement.

In April, Fiji’s president reappointed coup leader Frank Bainimarama as interim prime minister, less than two days after a court ruled his 2006 coup illegal.

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo had previously annulled the 1997 constitution and sacked the entire judiciary.

Bainimarama, who had promised an election this year, has now ruled out it out until 2014.

The Commonwealth groups 53 countries, mainly former British colonies. Fiji is already suspended from its meetings and the Commonwealth threatened in March to fully suspend Fiji at a September ministerial meeting if it did not make progress in restoring democracy.

At Friday’s meeting, the ministers said Fiji would be fully suspended on September 1 unless Fiji’s rulers committed to re-activating a political dialogue forum set up for political parties to discuss a return to democracy.

They said the dialogue should lead to a credible election no later than October 2010.

If a country is fully suspended, it loses access to Commonwealth advice and technical assistance. Commonwealth member states are encouraged to take further steps such as limiting government-to-government contacts.

Bainimarama has already said that the Commonwealth could go ahead if it wanted to suspend Fiji.

Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Robert Woodward

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