Fiji appoints coup leader as PM


Fiji's president reappointed former coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama to head the politically unstable South Pacific nation's government yesterday, less than two days after a court ruled his 2006 coup illegal.

Fiji has suffered four coups and a bloody military mutiny since 1987, mainly as a result of tensions between the majority indigenous Fijian population and the economically powerful ethnic Indian minority.

Mr Bainimarama was sworn in as caretaker prime minister in the morning by president Ratu Josefa Iloilo, who on Friday annulled the 1997 constitution and sacked the entire judiciary, including the judges who declared Bainimarama's former government illegal on Thursday.

"He just came, he read the oath and he was appointed as prime minister," a local journalist said.

In the afternoon MrBainimarama, who is also military chief, reappointed nine ministers in his former government to the same posts. They were sworn in by Mr Iloilo, an ethnic Fijian like Mr Bainimarama.

Mr Bainimarama came to power in a bloodless coup in 2006. On Thursday, in a case brought by former prime minister Laisenia Qarase, the Court of Appeal overturned an earlier judgement that the military chief's government was legal, and called for a new government led by neither man pending fresh elections.

Mr Bainimarama initially said he would step down.

But after annulling the constitution yesterday, the president enacted emergency powers for the country's military and police, initially for 30 days but with the possibility of extension.

Mr Iloilo also issued a decree giving himself the power to appoint a prime minister by decree and other ministers on the advice of the prime minister. These powers are to remain in force until a parliament is elected under a new constitution yet to be adopted.

Mr Iloilo has called for fresh elections in 2014. However, his actions have been widely criticised overseas.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has criticised the annulment of Fiji's constitution and called for it to be reversed.

In an address to the nation today, Mr Bainimarama called for all sections of society, including the media, to cooperate with the emergency regulations and promised elections by September 2014.

He said Mr Iloilo had no choice but to abrogate the constitution as a result of the "anomaly" in the judges' decision and "the serious consequent vacuum created by that decision".

One of the three judges involved in Thursday's decision, Australian Randall Powell, warned of a legal vacuum in Fiji as a result of the president's suspension of the judiciary, with large numbers of cases potentially going untried. Mr Powell has returned to Australia since the decision.

"It seems that Commodore Bainimarama has shown his true colours," Mr Powell told Australia's SBS television.

Australian trade minister Simon Crean said today the events in Suva were likely to further damage Fiji's economy, which has suffered since the coup. On Thursday, the Reserve Bank of Fiji predicted that the economy would contract by 0.3 per cent in 2009, compared with an expansion of 2.4 per cent in 2008.