A day after seizing power, Fiji's new military ruler declared a state of emergency in the tiny island nation Wednesday, warning protests wouldn't be tolerated.


Jona Senilagakali signs his oath of office as caretaker prime minister at the main military barracks in Suva. ((Rick Rycroft/Associated Press))

Commodore Frank Bainimarama swore in Jona Senilagakali as interim prime minister as armed troops surrounded the parliament buildings and interrupted senators as they debated a motion condemning the toppling of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

In a national broadcast declaring the state of emergency, Bainimarama warned against any civil uprising.

"We have reasonable grounds to believe that the life of the state is being threatened," he said. "For those who do not agree with what we are doing, we respect your opinion, but do not interfere with the process that is currently underway."

Qarase has called for non-violent protests against the coup, the country's fourth in 20 years. Hundreds of people gathered outside his residence in the capital Suva on Tuesday.

Suva remained generally quiet Wednesday, a day after Bainimarama declared he had seized power to end a long impasse with Qarase over bills offering pardons to conspirators in a 2000 coup and handing lucrative coastal land ownership to the indigenous Fijian majority.

He said the military wanted a peaceful transition to an interim administration and eventually elections that would restore democracy.

"There is no point in debating the legality or otherwise of our actions. Qarase and his cronies are not coming back," said Bainimarama.

"But should we be forced to use force, let me state that we will do so very quickly."

Qarase, who delivered a radio address Wednesday from his home village on the outlying Lau group of islands, said he was still the prime minister. He was sent to his home on Tuesday.

Suspended from Commonwealth?

Bainimarama's actions will be on the agenda when Commonwealth leaders meet Friday. Don McKinnon, the secretary-general of 53-member organization, said Fiji will likely be suspended.

Britain, the United States and New Zealand on Tuesday froze millions in aid to the nation, while Australia suspended military ties with Fiji.


Fijian military commander Frank Bainimarama said on Wednesday his forces would quickly respond to any resistance to his coup. ((Rick Rycroft/Associated Press))

Australia and New Zealand have called for people power to restore democracy to Fiji.

"I think the ordinary people of Fiji and the institutions of government in Fiji should show passive resistance to this imposition of dictatorship on their country," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told parliament on Wednesday.

Australia has also sent three navy ships to waters off Fiji to help Australian citizens who want to leave the country.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay says Ottawa is ready to assist the 70 Canadians living in Fiji.