Protest against Fiji leader in Australia

Protest against Fiji leader in Australia

SYDNEY - Fiji coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama's campaign rally in Sydney was met by a protest Saturday, as the military strongman prepares for the Pacific state's first election in eight years.

Bainimarama is leading his FijiFirst Party in polls set for September 17, the first to be held since he overthrew the government in a bloodless military coup in 2006.

Several hundred people attended the question-and-answer session in suburban Canterbury, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said, but opponents of Bainimarama's rule were denied entry and protested outside.

Usaia Waqatairewa, national president of the Sydney-based Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement, said about 200 people had joined the protest outside the Canterbury hall.

"What I wanted to do was to ask questions but they didn't allow that," Waqatairewa told AFP, saying he and fellow protesters had been kept outside the public meeting.

Waqatairewa said his group have been calling for Bainimarama to stand down and cede control to a caretaker government until polls can be held.

"What we are talking about his is controversial leadership of the last eight years," he said, saying human rights were in question and the press had been muzzled.

But others within the meeting spoke in praise of the military leader.

"Everything he has done for Fiji has turned out good," one man told the ABC.

The meeting comes after Bainimarama staged a campaign rally in Auckland, New Zealand which was also met by a small number of protesters.

Opposition groups say ongoing changes to election regulations stack the decks in Bainimarama's favour for the September polls.

Fiji has experienced four coups since 1987 stemming from tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians descended from sugar plantation labourers shipped in by the British during the colonial era.

Latest opinion polls in Fiji show 60 per cent support for Bainimarama to be the legally elected prime minister.

More than 55,000 Fiji-born people live in Australia, according to the last census held in 2011, with most living in New South Wales state of which Sydney is the capital. Thousands are thought to be eligible to vote in the Fiji election.

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