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FIJI: Interim government rejects 'illegal' ruling

Published: Wed 15 Nov 2000 08:21 PM
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GOVERNMENT TO SEEK STAY ORDER AGAINST JUDGE'S LANDMARK RULING
See PN earlier reports:
http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/docs/news/nius3102shoot.html
SUVA (Pacnews): Fiji's interim government has rejected a High Court judge's ruling that it is an illegal administration and that the country's 1997 constitution has not been abrogated, Pacnews reports.
The government's hardened stance was relayed to the Fiji Military Forces whose director of legal services, Lieutenant Colonel Etueni Caucau told Pacnews that an application for a stay order against Judge Anthony Gates ruling would be filed shortly.
He said the appeal against the ruling would be heard most probably at the next sitting of the Fiji Court of Appeal scheduled for January-February next year. Colonel Caucau said the status quo would remain pending the appeal.
The senior military lawyer said the army was also on alert to prevent those who would want to take advantage of the situation.
"We are calling on the people of Fiji to remain calm and to respect the rule of law," the Colonel told Pacnews this afternoon.
In a landmark decision handed down today (November 15), Justice Gates said the 1997 Constitution -- which the military said was abrogated when it declared martial law following the May 19 coup - was still intact and that the interim government was wrongfully established.
Because of this, he said Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was still the legal President of Fiji and ordered him to urgently convene a special sitting of Parliament. Judge Gates said the military's appointment of an interim government was unlawful and unconstitutional.
Although the interim government has refused to accept the High Court's decision, among the first to welcome it was the former administration of ousted Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.
"It is now incumbent on the authorities of our nation - the interim administration, the commander of the Fiji Military Forces, and the interim President to take the necessary action and accept the judgement," Chaudhry's co-deputy Prime Minister, Dr Tupeni Baba told Pacnews.
"The whole world is now looking to see whether Fiji will uphold what is just and right. This ruling will test our sense of what is right and what is wrong. It will test out ability to put into action what we have been telling the international community we will do."
Dr Baba felt the time was opportune for the formation of a government of national unity - something the ousted government had been advocating all along.
"It is the best way forward. This is the only way forward that will take us through these difficult times. This is the time to work together for the sake of our country."
While reactions from Dr Baba and his team had been forthcoming, the standard line among senior members of the legal fraternity in Fiji was that they needed time to read the complete judgement of Justice Gates.
"But from the sound of it, the crux of the ruling will be in its implementation," a lawyer in private practice in Suva said.
New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff has welcomed the decision saying the country's 1997 constitution remains valid and that the properly elected Parliament be recalled.
"Justice Gates decision that the abrogation of the constitution after the May 19 coup was invalid allows Fiji the opportunity to move forward."
"Fiji's instability and lack of legitimate government following the coup has caused huge damage to Fiji socially and economically," Goff said.
"To many lives have been lost, Fiji's economy is set to retract by an estimated 15 percent and its international image severely undermined.
"Justice Gates decision provides the opportunity now to make progress, if key players including the interim government and the military are prepared to take it up.
"For security and stability to be restored, there must be the acceptance of sorting out difficulties by democratic process, not the use of violence.
"Possibly the best way forward would be for both the indigenous community and indo Fijian and all political parties to support the establishment of a Government of National Unity and reconciliation."
Goff said there needs to be goodwill and good faith on all sides. The alternative is a continuing threat of feuding between different factions of the Indigenous political elite, which has already caused so much damage.
"The needs of both communities and the more than a third of the country's population which is living below the poverty line, is to turn the country's focus on how to rebuild the economy and political institutions, rather than a power struggle between elites motivated by greed and self - interest.
"The whole of the international community would welcome such an approach. Fiji's closest neighbours and friends, in particular New Zealand and Australia, would be ready to assist in every way possible in that process," Goff said.
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