Fiji coup leader to step down from military: official
Fiji strongman Voreqe Bainimarama - AFP/William West

SUVA: Fiji strongman Voreqe Bainimarama plans to step down from the military on Wednesday, making him eligible to run for prime minister in elections due later this year, officials said.

Bainimarama, who took power in a bloodless coup in 2006, was initially supposed to stand aside last Friday but the ceremony was postponed as a storm bearing down on the capital Suva appeared set to turn into a cyclone.

But the threat never happened and officials said Bainimarama’s transition to civilian life had been rescheduled for Wednesday.

“Due to the improved weather condition, all invited guests are advised that the postponed Commander Republic of Fiji Military Forces Handover Parade and Celebration will now be held on Wednesday, March 5,” the government said in a statement.

Bainimarama, 59, has been in the military for 39 years, 15 of them commanding the Pacific island nation’s armed forces.

However, under a new constitution adopted last year ahead of elections planned in September, members of the military cannot stand for public office, forcing Bainimarama to quit in order to pursue a political career.

He seized power in 2006, in Fiji’s fourth coup since 1987, promising to root out corruption and address the racial tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians that have plagued the country for decades.

His authoritarian regime has achieved stability but rights groups say that in the process he has trampled on basic freedoms in Fiji.

Bainimarama, who has not named a successor as military chief, will continue in the role of interim prime minister until the election.

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