The Fijian military is still refraining from using the “c” word to describe their grab for control of the Pacific nation, but President Ratu Josefa Iloilo more or less did it for them this morning when he signed an order to dissolve the Fijian parliament and hand power to the army.

This follows days of speculation about whether or not the military was actually mounting a coup. By early this morning, armed soldiers had surrounded the parliamentary complex in the Fijian capital, Suva, and the Prime Minister’s residence. Military checkpoints had been set up around the city. Vehicles used by government ministers, including the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, had been seized. The police force had been disarmed, and the PM’s police bodyguards had surrendered their weapons to the military.

It walked like a coup, it talked like a coup, and though no official statement from the military has been made, it’s a coup in all but name.

According to a number of businesses contacted by Crikey at around 11.30am AEST, the local television station had just informed Fijians that the military had taken control. Those businesses told Crikey the streets of Suva are calm and people are at work as normal, despite the larger than usual military presence, and despite no clear idea what this could escalate to in the coming days. A tourism industry worker told Crikey the tensions centered on the Prime Minister’s house, where a large military presence had built up in anticipation of the PM’s arrest.

Close to midday, Fijilive reported leading business people are also in the military’s sights:

Fiji’s Military seems to be set on arresting key Government Ministers and chief executives today, with a view to holding them on Nukulau Island prison with [former coup leader] George Speight.

Public Service Commission chief executive officer Anare Jale and chief executive officer in the Prime Minister’s Office Jioji Kotobalavu top the list of CEOs.

The Fijian PM has the support of the Great Council of Chiefs chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini, who has “appealed to the army to return to the barracks and not to arrest Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase” – it’s unlikely to be enough to save him.

The announcement of coup from the Fijian military now seems only as far away as their first chance to address the Fijian people.

Peter Fray

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