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President Iloilo revokes constitution, takes power

Fiji's President Ratu Josefa Iloilo (photo) announced that he had taken over the country's government Friday following a court ruling that the interim government headed by Commodore Frank Bainimarama was illegal.

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REUTERS - Fiji's president revoked the politically unstable South Pacific nation's constitution on Friday, named himself to replace temporarily a post-coup interim government and called for fresh elections by 2014.

 

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, who also sacked the judiciary, said he would appoint a new interim government soon but gave no firm time-frame.

 

His moves come after an interim government headed by military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama since a bloodless 2006 coup was declared illegal by Fiji's Court of Appeal on Thursday.

 

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.

 

Fijian media reported that Information Ministry officials had told them some emergency powers would be enforced under rules which allow for security forces to prohibit and disperse public gatherings, impose curfews and close roads.

 

"Let me assure all of you that the basic human rights of all citizens shall be protected in the new legal order," Iloilo said.

 

"Let me also assure you that I have the full support of all our security forces," the ageing and ailing president said in a national broadcast from his sprawling, colonial-era presidential residence overlooking the harbour in the capital, Suva.

 

'Backwards move'

 

Iloilo's plans will likely further harm Fiji's international relations, already strained after Bainimarama went back on a promise to hold elections in the first quarter of 2009.

 

Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth, a grouping of 53 mainly former British colonies, after Bainimarama's 2006 coup. The United States and European Union imposed sanctions until the tourism- and sugar-reliant island nation held elections.

 

Bainimarama says Fiji must first change its racially based electoral system, which he blames for past instability.

 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this week urged Bainimarama to restore democracy, backing a demand by South Pacific leaders for elections this year.

 

Australia and New Zealand, Fiji's main trading partners and aid donors, both condemned Iloilo's moves as "backwards" and backed the appeal court's recommendation for prompt elections.

 

"This is the right course for Fiji and the only way forward for the people of Fiji," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in a statement on Friday.

 

Iloilo said Fiji should hold fresh elections by 2014 to give a new interim administration time to make necessary reforms.

"I am sure you will all work together with me and the soon-to-be appointed interim government to ensure that this transition to a new legal order is not only smooth but will reap many benefits for us and the future generations," he said.

 

Iloilo appointed Bainimarama prime minister after the military leader toppled former premier Laisenia Qarase, whom he accused of being corrupt and soft on the leaders of a 2000 coup.

 

Iloilo's election timetable and call for electoral reforms mirror those of Bainimarama, whom he is known to favour.

 

"It has adhered to my mandate. It has had a positive impact on the lives of our people, in particular the ordinary citizens of our country, including those in the rural areas," Iloilo said of Bainimarama's government.

 

Qarase had asked the court of appeal to overturn an earlier High Court ruling that Bainimarama's government was legal.
 

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