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Friday, June 02, 2000, updated at 08:28(GMT+8)

News Analysis: Australia Hesitates on Sanctions Against Fiji

Australia takes a realistic attitude on whether to take sanctions against Fiji but maintains its pressure.

After George Speight took hostages of Fijian prime minister and his ministers on May 19, Canberra has threatened for several times to take sanctions against the island country. However up to now only bans on freight, air transport and mail have been imposed by trade unions.

The National Security Council of the cabinet met Wednesday night. Australian Associated Press Thursday reported that Foreign Minister Downer confirmed the council had agreed not to apply sanctions until former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his 30 ministers were released. Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Howard told reporter later that Australia remained committed to implementing sanctions.

Australia is hesitating. Downer had said on May 30 that "quite apart from the immense harm it would do to all Fijians, it would also down the economies of other neighboring countries such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tonga and Samoa, and I do not think Australia would be well regarded around the world if we were to do that." There are different viewpoints among Fijian trade unions on the issue. A Fiji trade union leader called Thursday on international unions to step up trade bans despite the pain they will cause the nation.

According to Australian Associated Press, Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC) secretary Felix Anthony said trade bans were necessary to protest against George Speight's capture of prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry and most of his government.

"That's the only way that the international trade union movement can tell the authorities here that this is not the way things are supposed to be," he said.

Fiji's main money-spinner, the sugar industry, Anthony said, already has ground to a halt, and schools and shops around the country remain closed.

He said the FTUC would meet on Saturday to decide on whether to push ahead with the stoppage.

Other Fijian business figures take a different stance saying that Trade sanctions will only hurt the poor and the innocent and could even have a backlash in Australia.

The clothing industry in Fiji employs 20,000 people - 60 percent of them Indian Fijians. The country import raw materials from Australia and then sell back clothing. Seventy five per cent of Fiji's exports to Australia are from the garment industry. The Australia-Fiji Business Council warned that Sanctions will lead to financial losses by Australian companies exporting to, or invent in Fiji and result in job losses in Australia.

With all of these concerns, Australia is certainly to take sanctions against Fiji if the democratizing process turned to be wrecked at last.

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Australia takes a realistic attitude on whether to take sanctions against Fiji but maintains its pressure.

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