Fiji Regime Suspends Opposition Party

Fiji's military regime said it had suspended one of the South Pacific nation's main opposition parties for failing to meet its financial obligations.

The Fiji Labour Party (FLP) had refused to pay a FJ$6,400 ($3,400) bill to cover the cost of publishing its financial data, Registrar of Political Parties Mohammad Saneem said.

"Unfortunately, this seems to have been a deliberate decision by FLP leadership to not abide by the decree. It is now up to them to remedy their breach," Saneem said.

He said the FLP, one of only three opposition parties the regime has approved to contest elections scheduled for September next year, had been suspended with immediate effect.

Saneem said the party would be deregistered unless it paid the bill within 60 days, which would bar it from the first vote since military leader Voreqe Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup.

Fiji had 17 opposition parties until the military tightened registration criteria earlier this year, lifting the membership required to qualify 40-fold from 128 to 5,000.

Only three parties met the new benchmark, the FLP, National Federation Party and the Social Democratic Liberal Party.

FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry could not be contacted for comment on his party's suspension.

Bainimarama rules by decree but has said he plans to create his own party and run for prime minister in next year's election.

After seizing power, he tore up Fiji's constitution and curbed freedom of speech and assembly, as well as muzzling local media.

International observers, including regional powers Australia and New Zealand, have said they will be closely watching developments in Fiji to see if the elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.

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