Thursday, April 09, 2009

Court declares Fiji's military government illegal

Court declares Fiji's military government illegal
SUVA, Fiji (Associated Press) — 9 April 2009

A court in coup-plagued Fiji declared the military government illegal Thursday and said the president should immediately appoint an interim leader to oversee a return to democracy.
Military ruler Commodore Frank Bainimarama did not immediately respond to the decision but is unlikely to step down.
The ruling of the Fiji Court of Appeal, the South Pacific nation's second-highest court, is certain to raise political tension in the country, which has suffered plummeting economic activity and long-simmering ethnic problems.
Ruling on a challenge to Bainimarama's rule brought by ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, a three-judge panel said the military chief's government had come to power illegally and the "only appropriate course of action at the present time is for elections to be held to enable Fiji to get a fresh start."
The court recommended President Ratu Josefa Iloilo appoint "a distinguished person" as interim prime minister who would dissolve parliament and call elections.
"This will enable Fiji to be restored to democratic rule in accordance with the Fiji Constitution," the judges said.
Bainimarama seized power in 2006 — the country's fourth coup in 20 years — after months of bickering with Qarase, whom he accused of discriminating in favor of indigenous Fijians who were his power base.
After the coup, Bainimarama convinced Iloilo to formally install his government to prevent further instability — a move Bainimarama claims makes his government legitimate.
The military chief has long promised to call elections to restore democracy, but has defied international pressure and sanctions to do so quickly.
He says he wants to reform the constitution and election laws to remove discrimination toward the country's large ethnic Indian minority — a process that could take years.
Bainimarama faces a May 1 deadline to name an election date or face automatic suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional trade and diplomatic bloc.
In the Obama administration's first comments on Fiji, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week Fiji should abide by the forum's timetable.
"We share a common determination that democracy must not be extinguished there," Clinton said during a joint appearance Tuesday in Washington with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he had little faith Bainimarama intended to restore democracy anytime soon.
"He's going to resist any genuine attempts to restore Fiji democracy," Key said.
Military-appointed Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said outside the court the government would not be giving up power immediately because doing so would leave a dangerous vacuum. He signaled the government would appeal the decision.
Thursday's decision overturned last October's High Court ruling that Iloilo acted legally when he authorized a transition of power to Bainimarama.
Fiji's tourism and sugar-export dependent economy has plunged since the coup, sending more of the nation's 800,000 population into poverty.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects name of court; UPDATES with comments from Clinton and New Zealand leader)

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