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Fiji Launches Competition For New National Flag

Fiji's national flag — until October.

The South Pacific nation of Fiji has launched a competition for a new national flag.

The current flag, adopted in 1970 following independence from Britain, is blue with the Union Jack in the left corner and a shield with the country's coat of arms.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced last month that Fiji would have a new flag — one without the Union Jack, which he said represents Britain not Fiji. The competition for a new design was launched today. A national committee will go through the entries after May 1, when the competition ends.

Radio New Zealand International reports: "The committee will then make a selection for public consultation, before Cabinet decides on a submission to Parliament, for a final consideration when it sits in July." The new flag will be ready by October, the 45th anniversary of the country's independence.

The move is intended as unifying. The country has two major groups: ethnic Fijians and ethnic Indians, who were brought over by the British as laborers to work on Fiji's sugar plantations in the 19th century. Relations between the two communities have sometimes been tense.

The Guardian adds:

"Bainimarama's idea then is not merely to move away from Fiji's colonial past but also to break down chiefly power – the source of his greatest opposition. This extends on actions he's already taken, through the dismantling of the great council of chiefs, for example.

"His opposition to chiefly authority is in part due to the perception that celebrating it only further deepens ethnic rifts. He angered many when he implemented a new constitution in 2009 in which there is no distinction made between the Indigenous and Indo-Fijian communities: all are considered equally Fijian."

Not everyone supports the change.

Radio New Zealand International reports that the opposition is calling move undemocratic. And Tessa Mackenzie, who designed the current flag in 1970, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.: "To say that our past is not relevant in any situation is foolish — we cannot get away from our past. I think it's a non-argument to me to say that we want to get away from the colonial past. Your past is there."

And in case you had designs on winning the contest, here's a possible obstacle: The competition is open to Fijians.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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