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Fiji opposition barred from parliament as party suspended

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Twenty-four politicians from Fiji's main opposition party have been barred from sitting in parliament after the party, Fiji First, had its registration suspended, the parliament's speaker said on Thursday.

The Pacific island nation saw its first change of leader in 16 years at a tightly fought national election in December, where Fiji First, which won 42% of the vote, was defeated by a coalition of three parties.

Four Fiji political parties were suspended for 30 days on Wednesday for not submitting audited accounts, local media reported.

In a statement, the parliamentary speaker's office said it had been notified by the Acting Registrar of Political Parties of the suspension.

"In light of the suspension of the registration of the Fiji First Party, all twenty-four members are not entitled to take part in the proceedings of Parliament or any committee of Parliament for the duration of the suspension," it said.

They would also not receive any payment from parliament during the suspension, it added.

Fiji First could not be reached for comment, and its social media accounts were offline.

The island nation experienced four military coups between 1987 and 2006, when former prime minister Frank Bainimarama took power before forming Fiji First in 2014.

Current Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, a former coup leader himself, leaves the country on Thursday to visit Papua New Guinea for a regional leaders meeting.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)