Fiji's military ruler, Commodore Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama, announced Monday that emergency laws in place since a 2009 political crisis would be lifted this week.
In a New Year speech, Bainimarama — who led a bloodless coup in the the Pacific island nation in 2006 and now holds the office of prime minister — also said consultations would start in February on a new constitution, Reuters reported.
During a crisis over his rule in 2009, the military government imposed emergency rule after the nation's Court of Appeal ruled the military government was illegal, according to the Associated Press.
Bainimarama repealed the constitution, sacked the judiciary and gave the police and military powers to detain people without charge. Emergency regulations also resulted in media censorship and a requirement for official approval for public meetings.
Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009 over Bainimarama's failure to call elections, according to Reuters, which added that:
Fiji's neighbors, including Australia, have long called on Bainimarama to step down and restore democracy.
Fiji's neighbors have long called on Bainimarama to step down and restore democracy. The Pacific island nation was suspended from the British-led Commonwealth grouping of 53 nations — mainly former British colonies — in 2009 over Bainimarama's failure to call elections.
Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and the United States have all imposed sanctions on Suva.
"I will in the next few weeks announce the nationwide consultation process which will commence in February 2012," Bainimarama reportedly said in his New Year message.
"To facilitate this consultation process, the public emergency regulations will cease from 7 January, 2012."
Bainimarama's move was immediately welcomed by New Zealand, one of the harshest critics of the Bainimarama-led military coup.
Agence France-Presse quoted New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully as saying Wellington had been calling for the lifting of the regulations as an important step towards the holding of free and fair elections in Fiji.
"We therefore welcome the announcement that the regulations are to be lifted and the announcement that public consultations will commence on a new constitution in February," McCully said.
"While there are a range of steps that will be required before free and fair elections can be held, these are important moves in the right direction.
"The international community will want to see these changes improve the lives and freedoms of ordinary Fijians."
Extended comments from Bainimarama — including his call for " the removal of institutionalized discrimination, the addressing of corruption, modernization and the ability to think outside of common traditional prejudices" — can be read on the heavily censored Fiji Times.