SUVA, Fiji — Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, a native Fijian and head of the armed forces, said Friday he staged his second military coup in this South Pacific island nation to block a political comeback by the elected Indian majority he toppled in the first coup May 14.
In a radio announcement, Rabuka said he had seized power again because the new government did not meet the goal that motivated his first coup: ensuring that Melanesians would control Fiji's government.
The coups reflect the political split in Fiji, where Fijians of Indian descent slightly outnumber native Melanesians in the population of 710,000, and control the business sector. Native Melanesians account for 90% of the army's troops.
Rabuka, 39, seized control of Radio Fiji on Friday only minutes before Governor General Penaia Ganilau was to announce to the Commonwealth nation the details of a new caretaker government to include both Melanesians and citizens of Indian descent.
Rabuka announced that he would amend the 1970 constitution--introducing changes observers expect will prevent citizens of Indian descent from regaining power in the country, which has been independent from Britain since 1970. The British brought Indians to Fiji in the last century to work in sugar cane fields.
"I wish to assure all citizens of all race or creed that law will be maintained," Rabuka said.
Correspondents in Suva were allowed to report the coup but communications were cut off soon after Rabuka's speech.
Airports at Suva and the main tourist resort at Nadi were reported still open and diplomatic communication networks were unaffected.
The coup was condemned by Australia, Britain and New Zealand.
Australian officials described the coup as a carbon copy of the May 14 coup, with Fijian troops quickly sealing off the capital of Suva, taking over newspaper offices and radio stations, and cordoning off key buildings.
They said troops arrested ousted Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra as he attempted to leave the capital. Bavadra, who had led representatives of the Indian community to power in the April election, was being held by armed guards at Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks.