Tuesday, July 4, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Qarase to be new Fiji PM

SUVA, July 3 (AFP) — Fiji’s military authorities today named an interim civilian Cabinet with indigenous Fijian banker Laisenia Qarase as premier and no ethnic Indian members.

Military chief Frank Bainimarama said Indians were not willing to serve in the administration, to be sworn in tomorrow, which will prepare Fiji’s fourth constitutional review since independence in 1970.

“We approached two very well qualified members of the Indian community but they declined” to join the administration, he said.

But Bainimarama made it clear Fiji’s Indian community would be marginalised for the second time since the military coups of 1987.

“I have directed that the interim administration initiate the constitution review process ... Which will encompass the review of the post coup 1990 constitution and the 1997 constitution.

“It will also focus on matters which need to be addressed in a deliberate, comprehensive, mature and balanced manner,” he told a media conference at military headquarters in Nabua, on the outskirts of Suva.

Bainimarama said this included a “review of indigenous rights and the best method of protecting these rights.”

Fiji’s political crisis erupted on May 19 when businessman George Speight, supported by a paramilitary group, stormed Parliament and took ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and members of his government hostage.

Mr Chaudhry and 26 other MPs are still being held hostage.

Bainimarama described members of the interim administration as a “good team” headed by Qarase, 59, who is general manager of the Merchant Bank of Fiji and previously headed the Fiji Development Bank for 14 years.

Bainimarama named former army commander Ratu Epeli Nailatikau as deputy interim Prime Minister, charged with indigenous Fijian Affairs. He is also the son-in-law of former President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

The Qarase Cabinet would undertake affirmative action and social justice programmes for indigenous Fijians “to bridge the opportunities gap between the Fijians and the non-Fijians,” Bainimarama said.

“Social justice programmes will also be considered for individual, disadvantaged Fijians.”.

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