Fiji's military ruler, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, is guilty of "serious crimes" and may be planning to become president, a move that could give him immunity from prosecution, Prime Minister Helen Clark says.
Her comments yesterday are likely to give fresh legs to a rumour that has been circulating in Fiji for some time.
Bainimarama, who appointed himself as interim prime minister after his December 2006 takeover, on Friday cancelled plans for elections next year.
Clark said the move was disappointing but she believed he had never intended to keep his pledge made to leaders at last year's Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga to hold a general election by March 2009.
"Unfortunately, his broken promises have caught up with him. I wasn't terribly convinced by the assurances he gave the forum leaders," Clark said.
Rumours have circulated in Fiji for months that Bainimarama might seek to take over the role of president from incumbent Ratu Josefa Iloilo.
Asked about the possibility, Clark said: "Of course, there is someone in that position at the moment. Perhaps that is the next stage of the coup."
She said that as things stood, Bainimarama "would be guilty of rather serious crimes, such as treason".
Bainimarama confidant and interim attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on Friday denied his boss intended to take over the presidency and install a trusted civilian as prime minister. "It is such a ridiculous proposal it is not worth me commenting on that," he said.
Clark said yesterday she would raise the situation in Fiji with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is due to visit New Zealand at the weekend before heading to Samoa for a meeting with South Pacific foreign ministers.
- © Fairfax NZ News