SUVA, Fiji (AP) – Fiji’s military commander declared a state of emergency earlier today, a day after he overthrew the elected government and brought international sanctions and censure that began to isolate the South Pacific country.

It was the nation’s fourth coup in 19 years. The radio network Legend quoted a military statement saying that armed forces would set up a cordon of checkpoints around the capital, Suva, as part of the state of emergency.

“As of 6 o’clock this evening, the military has taken over the government, has executive authority and the running of this country,” Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the armed forces chief credited with resolving Fiji’s last coup, said Tuesday in a nationally broadcast statement.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who insists he is still Fiji’s legitimate leader, flew yesterday from the capital to his home village on the remote northeastern Lau group of islands, said Pene Nonu, his private secretary.

The takeover, like the previous three coups, has its roots in the ethnic divide between the descendants of ancient Melanesian warrior tribes and those of Indian laborers brought by former colonial power Britain to work in sugar plantations.

In his declaration, Bainimarama justified seizing power to prevent legislation that favored indigenous Fijians, contending the measures “would undermine the constitution and deny many citizens their rights.”

Bainimarama said he had assumed some powers of the president and was using them to dismiss the prime minister.

The nation’s last coup, in 2000, was led by indigenous nationalists who overthrew the country’s first ethnic Indian prime minister. Bainimarama was widely regarded as a national hero after he stepped in, brokered a resolution without bloodshed and restored democracy, hand-picking Qarase, a former banker, to lead an interim government.

He also promised amnesty to coup participants but later reneged, and the ringleaders were arrested, tried and imprisoned for treason.

Bainimarama named Dr. Jona Senilagakali, a military medic with no political experience, as caretaker prime minister and said a full interim government would be appointed next week to see the country through elections that would restore democracy sometime in the future.

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