SUVA, Fiji — The army-backed Council of Ministers held its first meeting Friday and called for international recognition of Fiji's new regime the day after a coup ousted the month-old government of Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra.
Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, who led the bloodless coup, ignored the declaration of a state of emergency by Governor General Ratu Penaia Ganilau and took the chair at the meeting.
"I would expect that since the military government is in full control and is effectively running the country in an atmosphere of peace and calm, that countries with whom we have diplomatic relations should recognize the new government," Rabuka, 38, said in a statement read to reporters.
New Zealand, Australia, India, the United States and Britain have condemned the toppling of Bavadra's majority-Indian coalition, which defeated the conservative Melanesian-dominated Alliance Party of Ratu Kamisese Mara in the April 11 election.
Mara, 67, is foreign minister in the new council, which is filled with colleagues from his former government.
Bavadra's left-leaning government, ousted in Thursday's coup, had worried Washington by suggesting that it might adopt a policy similar to that of New Zealand by barring nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from its ports.
But Bavadra also had spoken about reaching an arrangement that would allow such visits to continue despite the U.S. refusal to say whether its ships are nuclear-armed, U.S. officials said, and had moved to ease U.S. worries by rebuffing a Soviet request to open an embassy in Suva.
Lt. Col. Rabuka has said his council will shape a new constitution that is widely expected to prevent ethnic Indians from achieving a government majority, as they did in Bavadra's coalition.
Indians, largely descendants of immigrant laborers, slightly outnumber indigenous Melanesians in Fiji's 714,000 population.
Rabuka, dressed in the traditional Fijian army officer's sulu (wrap-around skirt), said in a statement read to reporters, "It is clear that the people of Fiji have accepted what has happened and are prepared to cooperate in the national interests of Fiji and the overriding interest of peace."
He banned publication of Suva's two English-language daily newspapers and greatly increased the military presence in the capital.
Dozens of heavily armed soldiers, the officers masked with balaclavas, patrolled outside Parliament, where Rabuka early Thursday had abducted Bavadra and his Cabinet.
Bavadra, 52, was under house arrest Friday after being released from the military barracks where he was first taken.
The Information Ministry banned publication of the Fiji Sun and Fiji Times daily newspapers after they ran stinging reports and editorials opposing the takeover.
An Information Ministry spokesman said the ban was to prevent "inflammatory" editorials from causing civil strife.
After last month's election, groups of Fijians held demonstrations demanding that power be restored to indigenous Melanesians. Rabuka said he seized power to prevent further ethnic violence.