Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Reinstated Fijian president swears in interim ministers

NEW GOVERNMENT The eight appointments did not include Mahnedra Chaudhry, who was said to have been offered the post of finance minister


Fiji's reinstated president Ratu Josefa Iloilo yesterday swore in eight interim ministers to serve under coup leader and interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama.

The ministers were sworn in at a ceremony at Government House in Suva, with more expected to be appointed on today.

Government sources said the post of finance minister and deputy prime minister had been offered to Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry.

Chaudhry was deposed as Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister in a coup in 2000 and he was also finance minister in a Labour government ousted in a 1987 putsch.

He was not sworn in yesterday and refused to comment on whether he had been offered a post or if he would accept.

The eight appointments included former military commander and speaker of parliament Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, who was sworn in as minister of foreign affairs and external trade.

Jona Senilagakali, who served as Bainimarama's caretaker prime minister for nearly a month after the coup, was named as health minister.

Former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Poseci Bune, who was thrown out of the party late last year after a conflict with Chaudhry, was given the commerce, industry, investment and communications portfolios.

Other ministers sworn in yesterday included former senators, a lawyer and failed political candidates.

Another former military commander and leader of the National Alliance Party, Ratu Epeli Ganilau, was also reported to have been offered a post.

Both Ganilau and Nailatikau are sons-in-law of Fiji's first prime minister after independence, the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

Military commander Bainimarama, who deposed the elected government of prime minister Laisenia Qarase in a bloodless coup on Dec. 5, reappointed 86-year-old close ally Iloilo as president on Thursday.

Iloilo then swore in Bainimarama as interim prime minister the following day.

Interim Justice Minister and Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said electoral reform was among his main priorities.

"We need to move forward and in order to have elections, truly democratic elections, we need to have electoral reform," Khaiyum told reporters.

"I think we've got to put aside personal differences, we've got to move ahead with a lot of dignity, with a lot of professionalism rather than mud-slinging," he said.

Former prime minister Laisenia Qarase said he had been told Chaudhry had been offered the finance ministry.

"That is one position he has always wanted to take and I am not surprised," Qarase told Fiji radio.

"These appointments now confirm what we have always believed, that the Fiji Labour Party, the New Alliance party ... and a few other agencies were behind the overthrow of the government," he said.

More interim Cabinet posts were expected to be announced today.

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