COOK ISLANDS DEPUTY PM SAYS NO COUP

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By Jason Brown

AVARUA, Cook Islands (June 28, 2000 - Cook Islands News)---Floor crossing Tongareva MP Tepure Tapaitau will set up office as an independent Member of Parliament in support of government today.

Deputy Prime Minister Norman George yesterday praised Tapaitau for his move.

"We welcome him with open arms," George told Cook Islands News last night.

George says there is a possibility that "one or two" more Cook Islands Party members may also cross the floor.

SUPPORT PM

But, the day before Parliament sits, George denies the extra numbers might lead to a power struggle between himself and Prime Minister Terepai Maoate, leading to political instability.

"I support the PM 1,000%. And I have also given him my word and I’m not one for breaking the commitment unless other people let me down."

Tapaitau will get his own office and staff to do constituency work. He will also be involved in doing "consultancy work" in the area of marine resources, his former portfolio.

"There is a possibility that one or two other CIP members may follow his lead. We will make sure there are enough facilities to accommodate them."

DEFECTIONS

Further defections from the CIP depend on "other developments" that are happening "step by step."

The deputy prime minister would not say what these were.

"It’s a bit too early to start speculating."

Prime Minister Dr. Terepai Maoate could not be contacted for comment yesterday. Nor could Tapaitau. Meetings included one with Opposition Leader Sir Geoffrey Henry.

"They talked a long time," says opposition office executive secretary Pipi Elia. She said Tapaitau told them he crossed the floor because his committee "ordered" him to.

PETO SHOCKED

George’s former party member, Avatiu MP Peto Nicholas, yesterday said he was "shocked" by news of Tapaitau’s defection from the opposition to government.

"We just heard it now. We’re sitting out the back talking about it," he told CINews.

Nicholas rubbished any suggestion he might cross the floor to rejoin George’s New Alliance Party.

"For Norman and them to get me: no way. They tried to get me before. They tried someone else and they tried Tepure. It was a shock."

He questioned whether Tapaitau had even told his committee of his move.

Tapaitau’s defection brings the government to a total of 15 seats, the opposition, nine.

COUP RUMORS

Rumors about a "coup," says the deputy Prime Minister George, nearly always start when he is overseas.

"How can you prepare a coup," he asked, "when I’m overseas? It’s not worth commenting about. That’s why I never bothered to ring the media to deny the rumors because there’s nothing to deny."

Remaining members of the opposition are: Sir Geoffrey Henry, Tom Marsters, Albert Nicholas, Paora Teiti, Teina Bishop, Papamama Pokino, Miimama Parima and Joe Williams.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online. 

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