NEW ZEALAND'S Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, sacked her deputy and Treasurer, Winston Peters, yesterday and invited his party colleagues to desert him and stay in coalition with her.
Ms Shipley accused Mr Peters, who staged a walk-out of his New Zealand First party ministers from a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, of bringing the country's reputation into disrepute and impugning her integrity.
She insisted the coalition government, in power since December 1996, would remain in place pending a commitment from the four other NZ First ministers to stay in the Cabinet.
One, the Associate Treasurer, Tuariki Delamere, accused Mr Peters of misleading the country and said: "The Prime Minister has my unwavering support at this time." The others said they would make up their minds over the weekend.
Last night, Mr Peters expressed confidence in his colleagues' loyalty.
"These are not people who can be bought off," said Mr Peters, who formed his New Zealand First party after being sacked for disloyalty while a minister under Jim Bolger, Ms Shipley's predecessor, in 1991.
Ms Shipley's conservative National Party needs support from seven of NZ First's 16 MPs to get a majority in the 120-seat parliament. Meanwhile, 10 opposition MPs have promised to back her on votes of confidence and money supply.
The Prime Minister said if the coalition collapsed she would run a minority National Party government. She ruled out an early election, saying she intended to see out the government's three-year term, which expires late next year.
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