Fiji Reinstates President, Appoints Interim Government

Fiji's reinstated president on Monday appointed eight ministers to an interim government led by military strongman Frank Bainimarama, solidifying his grip over the South Pacific nation.

Bainimarama, who was sworn in last week as Fiji's prime minister exactly four weeks after staging an armed but bloodless coup, selected a number of former government officials, military figures and high ranking indigenous chiefs to serve in his caretaker Cabinet.

Former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian leader who was ousted during a nationalist coup in 2000, has been offered a position in Bainimarama's interim government, an online news site, Fiji Live, reported. Chaudhry, now the leader of the Fiji Labour Party, refused to comment.

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Bainimarama has said his interim government will pave the way for a return democracy in Fiji, but has not yet set a deadline for new elections.

The former interim prime minister, Jona Senilagakali, a political novice and Bainimarama's doctor, was appointed health minister, while a former military commander and speaker of Parliament, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, will act as foreign minister, according to the report. A former navy officer, a lawyer, two former senators and two failed candidates in the 2006 election were also named to top-level posts. More appointments are expected Tuesday.

The interim ministers were selected by Bainimarama but officially sworn in by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, who was ousted last month but restored to the largely ceremonial post last Thursday.

Bainimarama had earlier deposed Iloilo, dissolved the Cabinet, suspended Parliament and banished the elected Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to his home island 300 kilometers (190 miles) outside the capital, Suva.

The Dec. 5 coup — Fiji's fourth in nearly two decades — was the culmination of a long impasse between Bainimarama and Qarase over bills offering pardons to conspirators in the 2000 coup and handing lucrative coastal land ownership to indigenous Fijians. Bainimarama, himself an indigenous Fijian, said the bills were unfair to the island's ethnic Indian minority.

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