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Pacific's Tuvalu wracked by constitutional crisis

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In this file photo, Willy Telavi, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, addresses the UN General Assembly in New York, on September 24, 2011. Tiny Pacific nation was caught in a constitutional crisis on Friday after Telavi and governor general tried to sack each other, sources in the capital Funafuti said. (AFP/File)

The tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu was caught in a constitutional crisis Friday after its prime minister and governor general tried to sack each other, sources in the capital Funafuti said.

The tit-for-tat dismissals in one of the world's smallest countries came after Prime Minister Willy Telavi refused to allow parliament to debate a no-confidence motion in his government, which has been in power since late 2010.

The move prompted Governor General Iakoba Italeli to order Telavi's removal, with the prime minister responding by firing off a letter to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II informing her he was dismissing Italeli from his position.

"It's a very complex and confusing constitutional crisis that we're facing," a senior source in the governor general's office told AFP.

He said the Queen, who remains Tuvalu's head of state despite the country gaining independence from Britain in 1978, had not yet given any indication about whether she accepted the governor general's dismissal.

"Until that confirmation is received, the governor general has not been removed," he said.

Adding to the confusion, opposition leader Enele Sopoaga told Radio New Zealand International he had been appointed caretaker prime minister and planned to oversee a no-confidence vote in Telavi's government.

The source in Funafuti said the 15-seat parliament was likely to meet next Tuesday to choose a new prime minister.

"Hopefully that will be the case, but I can't say for sure as there are still political manoeuvrings and manipulations going around," he said.

The push for a no-confidence motion was reportedly sparked by Health Minister Taom Tanukale's resignation from parliament, which boosted the opposition's numbers in the chamber, giving them the confidence to challenge.

Tuvalu, a grouping of nine coral atolls with a population of less than 11,000, lies about halfway between Australia and Hawaii.

It is best known as one of the former British colonies where Prince William and his wife Kate toured last year as controversy swirled over publication of topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge.