Fiji is by far the most populous and economically powerful of the South Pacific island nations and seen as a regional hub for business and diplomacy. Fiji, with a population of 915,000 (July 2016 est.), endowed with forest, mineral, and fish resources, is one of the most developed and connected of the Pacific island economies. Earnings from the tourism industry, with nearly 800,000 tourists visiting in 2016, and remittances from Fijian抯 working abroad are the country抯 largest foreign exchange earners.
The importance of warfare and cannibalism in early Fijian history should not detract from the accomplishments of the early culture. Ethnicity plays a major role in Fiji's politics, economy, and society. Although characterized by cannibalistic ritual, warfare nonetheless brought about the integration of dissimilar cultural and linguistic groups into larger political entities.
Fiji's multiracial society is divided between indigenous Fijians [about 60%] and ethnic Indians [about 40%]. Indo-Fijians dominate the economy and professions and are well represented in the lower and middle levels of the public service, while ethnic Fijians make up the bulk of the nation's military forces and control the political structures.
Fiji became independent in 1970 after nearly a century as a British colony. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 caused by concern over a government perceived as dominated by the Indian community (descendants of contract laborers brought to the islands by the British in the 19th century). The coups and a 1990 constitution that cemented native Melanesian control of Fiji led to heavy Indian emigration; the population loss resulted in economic difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. A new constitution enacted in 1997 was more equitable. Free and peaceful elections in 1999 resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian, but a civilian-led coup in 2000 ushered in a prolonged period of political turmoil.
Parliamentary elections held in 2001 provided Fiji with a democratically elected government led by Prime Minister Laisenia QARASE. Reelected in May 2006, QARASE was ousted in a December 2006 military coup led by Commodore Voreqe BAINIMARAMA, who initially appointed himself acting president but in January 2007 became interim prime minister. Following years of political turmoil, long-delayed legislative elections were held in September 2014 that were deemed "credible" by international observers and that resulted in BAINIMARAMA being reelected.
The crimes decree includes criticism of the government in its definition of the crime of sedition. This includes statements made in other countries by any person, who authorities may prosecute on their return to the country. The courts set the trial for more than 60 defendants in an August 2015 sedition case for 2017. The government charged the defendants for seditious acts in 2015 following claims of military-style training and an attempt to establish a breakaway state on the main island of Viti Levu.
Health-care facilities in Fiji's urban areas are adequate for most routine medical problems. In rural areas, staff training is limited and there are often shortages of supplies and medications. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services. Travelers should carry adequate supplies of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of their prescriptions, the generic name of the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications.
Emergency response is extremely limited. Ambulance availability is minimal, and ambulances are often poorly equipped and not staffed with medical personnel. Although a private hospital in Suva provides a Western-style medical medical facility, the standards of care are below normal United States care. Persons with medical emergencies may be evacuated to Australia, New Zealand, or the United States, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars and will be considered only if the patient has adequate insurance or pays upfront.
There are dangerous rip tides along reefs and river estuaries. Always comply with warning signs, especially red flags, and only swim from approved beaches. Vistors planning to go out to the reefs or engage in any water activities should satisfy themselves that the company they are using has the most up-to-date equipment, including all of the necessary safety features and that they are fully licensed and insured.
While most roads in urban areas are paved, they are poorly maintained. Roads outside the city are usually not paved. In the city, be especially attentive when driving after dark. Outside of the city, it is best to avoid driving after dark except in emergency or exceptional circumstances. Insufficient lighting, stray animals, unwary pedestrians, and potholes make driving dangerous and particularly hazardous at night. Take extra care when driving at night particularly in rural areas as roads are mainly in a poor condition and can be dangerous due to a lack of street lighting, the presence of pedestrians and stray animals on roads.
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