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Key presses Fijian PM over media freedom

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 9/06/2016 By Sarah Robson

Prime Minister John Key has broached the touchy subject of media freedom during his formal talks with his Fijian counterpart Frank Bainimarama.

But Mr Key doesn't hold much hope of Fiji lifting its ban on a number of New Zealand journalists any time soon.

The two prime ministers met in Suva on Friday morning, but that's been overshadowed by Mr Bainimarama's no-holds-barred speech at Thursday evening's state banquet to mark Mr Key's visit.

Mr Bainimarama lashed out at the "hostile" New Zealand media, justified Fiji's ongoing ban on a number of Kiwi journalists and defended the recent suspension of an opposition MP from Fiji's parliament.

He also stood by his actions leading the military coup in 2006.

Mr Key said he urged Mr Bainimarama to rethink his stance towards the blacklisted journalists.

"I don't think he's going to change that in the very short-term, I certainly said to him I thought he should re-think that over time," Mr Key told reporters.

While the body language between the two prime ministers appeared cool at their joint press conference, Mr Key described his talks with Mr Bainimarama as constructive.

He reiterated that he believed his visit was an important step.

"I didn't come to Fiji to relitigate the issues of the last 10 years, I came to Fiji to demonstrate actively that New Zealand wants to progress the relationship, that there is a great deal we can and should be doing together, that New Zealand is utterly committed to the Fijian relationship," Mr Key said.

Trade, development assistance, an upgraded double tax agreement, and the ongoing recovery from tropical cyclone Winston were also canvassed during the half-hour talks between the two leaders.

Mr Bainimarama managed to crack a smile when Mr Key presented him with a rugby ball signed by the All Blacks and in return, Mr Key received a Fiji Sevens jersey with his name emblazoned on the back.

Mr Key is the first New Zealand prime minister to visit Fiji in a decade.

The ongoing thaw between the two countries follows Fiji's return to democracy in 2014 followed the 2006 military coup led by Mr Bainimarama.

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