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Fiji's President Abolishes Constitution, Fires Judiciary

Fiji's president fired the judiciary and assumed control Friday in a rapidly deepening political crisis in the troubled South Pacific nation.

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo announced in a nationally broadcast radio address that he had abolished the constitution, assumed all governing power and revoked all judicial appointments.

The move came one day after the country's second-highest court ruled that the military government that took power after a 2006 coup was illegal, prompting armed forces chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama to say he was relinquishing his post as self-appointed prime minister.

The exact impact of Iloilo's announcement was not clear. The president, who swore Bainimarama into power two years ago, said he would appoint an interim prime minister soon.

He also said Fiji would hold elections in 2014.

"I hearby confirm I have abrogated the 1997 constitution and appointed myself as head of state in the new order," Iloilo said in the address.

Under the constitution, Fiji's president has a mostly ceremonial role as head of state and governing power is held by an elected prime minister and cabinet.

The date of elections to restore democracy in Fiji has been a sore point both domestically and internationally since Bainimarama seized power in December, 2006 — the country's fourth coup in 20 years.

Bainimarama has long promised to hold democratic elections, but has baulked at setting a timetable, saying he would overhaul the constitution and electoral laws first — a process likely to take years.

A three-judge Court of Appeal panel on Thursday upheld a challenge to Bainimarama's rule by ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, saying the military government was illegal and urging Iloilo to replace it with an interim government.

In response, Bainimarama said Thursday he had told Iloilo he would step down.