Ailing Fiji Leader in Walter Red for Medical Treatment
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fiji’s president, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, flew halfway around the world Friday on a U.S. military jet to Washington where he entered Walter Reed Army Medical Center for urgent treatment.
Ganilau, 74, has a longstanding blood disorder and a minor case of diabetes, but he was ordered to bed last week after developing a chest cold and muscle weakness, possibly caused by viral infection, his doctor said.
The specialized care available here should enable him to recover quickly, said the presidential physician, Dr. Isao Bakani, prior to Ganilau’s departure from Suva, capital of the South Pacific island republic.
President Bush authorized a medically equipped C-141 jet for the journey at the request of the Fiji government, which said Ganilau’s illness made it difficult for him to travel. The plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, and the entourage continued by motorcade to Walter Reed, where Ganilau was treated last February.
Doctors in Washington had recommended then that Ganilau return in six months for a checkup, and that was planned for later this month, Bakani said.
U.S. authorities barred news coverage of the president’s arrival on grounds it was a private matter.
But the State Department marked the sudden visit with a statement paying tribute to the leader.
″President Ganilau, a beloved figure in Fiji, and a high ranking chief, has brought not only his personal status but also his deep love for his country to the Fijian presidency,″ it said.
Fijian authorities ″asked that the United States bring President Ganilau to this country for medical treatment and we are pleased that the U.S. is able to respond to this humanitarian request,″ the statement said.
Ganilau, an indigenous high chief, is widely respected and seen as an important unifying force in Fiji’s multiracial society. He has most of a new five-year term to serve, but he recently told colleagues he would decide by year’s end whether he would retire early.
He was governor-general and the representative of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth when Fiji’s current prime minister, Maj. Gen. Sitiveni Rabuka, staged two military coups in 1987 and ousted a newly elected government led by Fijians of Indian origin. The military refused to accept the transfer of political power to Indian-Fijians, the islands’ second largest ethnic group, from the traditional leadership of indigenous islanders.
Fiji was later declared a republic and Ganilau became president.
The republic has 720,000 people and is an archipelago of more than 300 islands with a total land area of 7,000 square miles.