Military ruler lets old priest stay

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 12:32 26/01/2013
Voreqe Bainimarama
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
IN CHARGE: Fiji's military dictator Voreqe Bainimarama.

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Fiji’s military ruler Voreqe Bainimarama has backed down on deporting a 76-year-old Catholic priest who was last night seeking protection at the Australian High Commission in Suva.

Father Kevin Barr, who has lived in Fiji for 32 years, was earlier this month subjected to a torrent of offensive abuse and text messaging from Bainimarama.

Barr, who had long been a supporter of the military regime that seized power in 2006, had suggested that after Fiji remove the union jack from its flag that it could be replaced with the flag of China.

Bainimarama phoned him and told him he was “a f***** up priest” and suggested he would cancel his work permit.

Yesterday afternoon the military sought to meet Barr in a settlement outside Suva, but he instead went to the Australian High Commission where, in a brief conversation with Fairfax Media said: “I cannot talk… Our worst fears have eventuated, I am in an awkward position.”

Soon after, the military’s immigration minister Joketani Cokanasiga declared Barr was a “prohibited immigrant due to a breach in his work permit’’.

“The Department has issued a formal notice to Father Barr who has until Sunday the 27th of January to leave the country. “

This morning Bainimarama rescinded this.

“Following representations made to me, I have reviewed and reversed the decision made by the minister of immigration to cancel the work permit for Kevin Barr,” he said.

“Father Barr is free to remain in the country until his work permit has expired, which at that time will still be subject to assessment for renewal following the necessary protocols.”

Barr had made his Chinese flag remark in a letter to the Fiji Sun, he got a phone call from Bainimarama himself.

“Then in a very angry voice he said that I should apologise to the people of Fiji for my letter concerning the Fijian flag in the newspaper,” Barr said in a letter he wrote privately to the Australian High Commission, but which has been leaked in blogs.

 “(Bainimarama) then called me ‘a f***** up priest’ and said I had become anti-government,” Barr said.

He repeated the phrase again and threw in a few swear words and told him to go back to where he came from.

“His tone was angry and really over the top.”

Minutes later he got a text message from Bainimarama: “I think you owe the people of Fiji an apology for your childish comments. You give all Catholic priests a bad name.”

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Barr said he replied that he was not anti-government but disappointed at some developments.

He then got a reply from Bainimarama: “F*** U a***hole. Stay well away from me.”

Shortly later he got another text telling him to “start saying your goodbyes” and pointing out his work permit expired at the end of the year: “Go and be a missionary in China”.

- Stuff

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