Speight and allies excluded as Fiji's new civilian government sworn in

Click to follow
The Independent Online

After floating in political limbo for 10 weeks, Fiji finally has a new civilian government, but it is unelected, racially based and contains only one ethnic Indian.

After floating in political limbo for 10 weeks, Fiji finally has a new civilian government, but it is unelected, racially based and contains only one ethnic Indian.

Laisenia Qarase, a respected banker, was sworn in as Prime Minister of the interim government amid tight security yesterday. He will serve until general elections are held - probably not for another three years - under a constitution that will allow only indigenous Fijians to hold positions of power.

The swearing-in ceremony followed a military crackdown in which the nationalist coup leader George Speight and hundreds of his supporters were arrested.

Although the new government is made up of indigenous nationalists, it contains no Speight sympathisers, a fact that may spark further civil unrest in the South Pacific nation. Yesterday, though, Fiji was calm, after violence against ethnic Indians erupted on Thursday. Two New Zealand pilots abducted by rebels on Thursday were released unharmed after intervention by the chief of a village where they were being held on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second biggest island. Vanua Levu remains volatile, and the army admits it is not in contro of the island.

It issued an ultimatum to rebels occupying the military barracks in the provincial capital, Labasa, to vacate the camp by midnight tomorrow or face "drastic action". Many ethnic Indians in the town are reported to have gone into hiding.

The appointment of Mr Qarase follows the overthrowof the democratically elected government of Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji's first Indian prime minister. He and his cabinet were held hostage for 56 days in parliament by Mr Speight's gunmen and released a fortnight ago.

Mr Qarase, whose government will replace a military administration, has promised to restore democracy. But he and his cabinet are committed to promoting the interests of indigenous Fijians over those of Indo-Fijians, who make up 44 per cent of the population.

The only Indian in his 28-strong government is George Shiu Raj, who will serve as assistant minister of regional development. Mr Shiu Raj does not have cabinet status.

The composition of the new government represents a defeat for Mr Speight, who was arrested on Wednesday and could face treason charges after making death threats against President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. A line-up proposed last week included three of his allies.

Mr Qarase said observers calling for the reinstatement of Mr Chaudhry's government and the multi-racial constitution - which was abrogated by the military after it imposed martial law - were "not being realistic about the local political situation".

The new constitution would guarantee the "special place in our society" of indigenous Fijians. The motivation was "to ensure the survival of a small and distinct race."

The army said Mr Speight's coup plotters were all now in custody after it arrested two of his henchmen yesterday.

Comments