Coup leader Bainimarama reappointed as PM

Fiji's President Ratu Josefa Iloilo reappointed former coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama to head the interim government on Saturday, less than two days after a court ruled his 2006 coup illegal.


AFP - Fiji's President Ratu Josefa Iloilo Saturday reappointed military chief Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama as interim prime minister a day after he set off fresh turmoil by repealing the constitution.

All nine members of Bainimarama's former interim cabinet were also given their posts back, returning political power to the same people whose interim administration was declared invalid by Fiji's Court of Appeal two days ago.

Fiji has been plunged into a new political crisis since Thursday when the court declared that Bainimarama's government had been illegally appointed by Iloilo following the December 2006 military coup.

Iloilo responded a day later by repealing the constitution, dismissing the judiciary and setting a September 2014 deadline for elections to restore democracy.

The president also introduced emergency regulations Friday, which include censorship of the South Pacific nation's media, with government officials being sent into news rooms to vet political stories.

The infirm 88-year-old Iloilo has been seen as being under the influence of Bainimarama since before the 2006 coup.

He then appointed the military chief as interim prime minister after the elected government of prime minister Laisenia Qarase was removed at gun point in the country's fourth coup in two decades.

But Bainimarama denied Friday he had influenced Iloilo's response to the court ruling.

The three Court of Appeal judges had called for the president to appoint a caretaker prime minister -- independent of either Bainimarama or Qarase -- to take the country to fresh elections.

Bainimarama went to see the president on Thursday after the judgement.

"I explained to him the result of the appeal, and I guess he came up with that on his own," Bainimarama told Radio Australia of Iloilo's response.

"I told him the implications of the result of the appeal."

Fiji has so far remained quiet since the latest political upheaval, with no reports of unrest.

The latest developments were condemned by the United Nations, the British Commonwealth and governments around the world.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had learned with "deep dismay" of the attempt to prolong rule by an unelected executive, spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement.

"The latest measures are a clear rejection of the legal process and are contrary to the stated common objective of returning the country to an elected government as soon as possible," the statement said.

Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said Iloilo's actions were "a clear new breach of fundamental Commonwealth political values and are unacceptable".

The United States said it was "deeply disappointed" at the abolition of Fiji's constitution.

"We are concerned by the implications this abrogation holds for the future of judicial independence, media freedom and democracy itself in Fiji," said  State Department spokesman Richard Aker.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Friday the delay of elections until 2014 was "completely unacceptable" and Trade Minister Simon Crean refused to rule out imposing trade sanctions against Fiji.

"This is a matter for consideration down the track," Crean said Saturday.

"I think that the urging for the moment is for the government and the new administration to declare its intentions to return to democracy."

Bainimarama reneged on promises to restore democracy by March this year, saying Fiji first needed to reform an electoral system that he argues has aggravated divisions between the indigenous majority and the ethnic Indian minority.

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