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EC chief sees little progress in 'repressive' Fiji

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(AUCKLAND) - European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said Thursday he saw few signs that Fiji's "repressive" military regime was moving towards democracy.

Barroso said Europe, which has suspended a total of 80 million euros ($113 million) in development aid for Fiji since a 2006 military coup, intended to maintain pressure on Suva to restore democracy.

The European Union cannot turn a blind eye to issues such as human rights and the rule of law when allocating its aid budget, the head of the EU's executive arm said.

"Today we see little, if any, positive developments (in Fiji), the repressive regime remains in place, the socio-economic situation has worsened," he said in a speech at Auckland University in New Zealand, where he is attending the Pacific Island Forum (PIF).

"Against this background there is an evident need for supporting the Fijian people but keeping the pressure on the regime.

"That is why we will continue our search for a solution that returns democracy to the people of Fiji."

Since taking power, Fiji's military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama has suspended the constitution, sacked the judiciary, muzzled the media and been accused of human rights abuses.

Fiji was suspended from the 16-nation PIF in 2009 after reneging on a promise to hold elections, and it is not represented at this year's summit despite calls from some other Pacific countries for its reinstatement.

Turning his attention to the wider Pacific region, which includes many low-lying island states, Barroso said there was an urgent need to address the challenges presented by climate change.

"This region is historically among the least responsible for causing climate change but it is the first to suffer its consequences and these are predicted to intensify in coming years," he said.

Barroso said the EU, the second largest aid donor in the region after Australia, was committed to working with Pacific countries to alleviate the global warming challenge.

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