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SUVA (Reuters) - Fiji's military ruler Commodore Frank Bainimarama has announced that emergency laws in place since a 2009 political crisis will be lifted this week, government officials said on Monday.
In a New Year speech, Bainimarama also said consultations would start in February on a new constitution to replace one annulled in 2009, at the height of a political crisis over his rule.
Government officials in Suva confirmed the content of the speech to Reuters by telephone. The emergency regulations imposed media censorship, required official approval for public meetings and gave the police and military additional powers.
"I will in the next few weeks announce the nationwide consultation process which will commence in February 2012," Bainimarama said, according to an emailed copy of the speech.
"To facilitate this consultation process, the public emergency regulations will cease from 7 January, 2012."
Fiji's neighbors, including Australia, have long called on Bainimarama to step down and restore democracy. The Pacific island nation was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009 over Bainimarama's failure to call elections.
Bainimarama has been in power since a bloodless coup in 2006.
In 2009, a court ruled the coup illegal, but then president Ratu Josefa Iloilo responded by annulling the 1997 constitution, and reappointed Bainimarama as prime minister the next day, along with his government.
The emergency regulations were introduced at that time.
Fiji has suffered four coups and a bloody military mutiny since 1987, mainly as a result of tension between the majority indigenous Fijian population and an economically powerful, ethnic Indian minority.
The military ruler has said that he wants to put an end to the tension that has hampered Fiji's development and warned in his speech that public order must be maintained during the consultation process.
He also said the new constitution must be based on equal rights for all Fijians, regardless of ethnicity.
"There are certain features of the new constitution that will be non-negotiable," he said.
"The constitution must establish a government that is founded on an electoral system that guarantees equal suffrage - a truly democratic system based on the principle of one person, one vote, one value; we will not have a system that will classify Fijians based on ethnicity; and, our young men and women, those 18 years old must have the right to vote."
Editing by Robert Birsel