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SUVA, Fiji Islands (November 15, 2000 – Pasifik Nius)---A Fiji Islands pro-democracy group has called on the military installed interim administration to be ready to resign and make way for the formation of a government of national unity following today's landmark court ruling that the 1997 constitution is still valid.

The Citizens' Constitutional Forum hailed the judgment of Justice Anthony Gates in the High Court of Fiji as "a victory for constitutional government and the rule of law."

In his decision today in the western town of Lautoka, Judge Gates said the 1997 Constitution - which was claimed by the military to have been abrogated on May 29 when imposing martial law following the coup led by failed businessman George Speight - was still intact and that the interim government was illegal.

He also ruled that Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who stepped aside at the behest of the military, was still the legal President of Fiji and ordered him to urgently convene a special sitting of Parliament.

Judge Gates said the military's appointment of an interim government was unlawful and unconstitutional. He added that all those elected in the deposed Mahendra Chaudhry government were still Members of Parliament.

The judge was ruling on a lawsuit by Chandrika Prasad, a citizen who had questioned the legality of the abrogation of the constitution.

Radio Fiji said Judge Gates' ruling was the first verdict taken in what was expected to be a series of challenges to the military's decision to abolish the 1997 Constitution.

The Citizens' Constitutional Forum also called on the Fiji Military Forces and the police to support the restoration of the 1997 Constitution and the return of the President, who would convene a government of national unity.

The forum made a plea for Fiji citizens to respect the law and refrain from any illegal acts.

"This is a time for all people who have been divided by the coup of May 19 to support the reconciliation that will be initiated by a government of national unity," said executive director Rev Akuila Yabaki.

"We call on those who had orchestrated the events leading up to the May 19 illegal seizure of the elected government not to arouse indigenous Fijians to engage in unlawful activities.

"The provincial councils and the Great Council of Chiefs should not be used by politicians who are going to lose their offices as the consequence of this decision to oppose the restoration of constitutional government in Fiji."

* See PN earlier reports #3111 and #3109 at: 

Title -- 3112 FIJI: Citizens' group calls for interim government to resign Date -- 15 November 2000 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Pasifik Nius, 15/11/00 Copyright – PN Status -- Unabridged



SUVA, Fiji Islands (November 15, 2000 – Pacnews/Pasifik Nius)---Fiji's interim government has rejected a High Court judge's ruling that it is an illegal administration and that the country's 1997 constitution has not been abrogated, Pacnews reports.

The government's hardened stance was relayed to the Fiji Military Forces whose director of legal services, Lieutenant Colonel Etueni Caucau, told Pacnews that an application for a stay order against Judge Anthony Gates ruling would be filed shortly.

He said the appeal against the ruling would be heard most probably at the next sitting of the Fiji Court of Appeal scheduled for January-February next year. Colonel Caucau said the status quo would remain pending the appeal.

The senior military lawyer said the army was also on alert to prevent those who would want to take advantage of the situation.

"We are calling on the people of Fiji to remain calm and to respect the rule of law," the Colonel told Pacnews this afternoon.

In a landmark decision handed down today (November 15), Justice Gates said the 1997 Constitution -- which the military said was abrogated when it declared martial law following the May 19 coup -- was still intact and that the interim government was wrongfully established.

Because of this, he said Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara is still the legal President of Fiji and ordered him to urgently convene a special sitting of Parliament. Judge Gates said the military's appointment of an interim government was unlawful and unconstitutional.

Although the interim government has refused to accept the High Court's decision, among the first to welcome it was the former administration of ousted Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

"It is now incumbent on the authorities of our nation - the interim administration, the commander of the Fiji Military Forces, and the interim President to take the necessary action and accept the judgment," Chaudhry's co-deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Tupeni Baba told Pacnews.

"The whole world is now looking to see whether Fiji will uphold what is just and right. This ruling will test our sense of what is right and what is wrong. It will test out ability to put into action what we have been telling the international community we will do."

Dr. Baba felt the time was opportune for the formation of a government of national unity - something the ousted government had been advocating all along.

"It is the best way forward. This is the only way forward that will take us through these difficult times. This is the time to work together for the sake of our country."

While reactions from Dr. Baba and his team had been forthcoming, the standard line among senior members of the legal fraternity in Fiji was that they needed time to read the complete judgment of Justice Gates.

"But from the sound of it, the crux of the ruling will be in its implementation," a lawyer in private practice in Suva said.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff has welcomed the decision, saying the country's 1997 constitution remains valid and that the properly elected Parliament be recalled.

"Justice Gates decision that the abrogation of the constitution after the May 19 coup was invalid allows Fiji the opportunity to move forward."

"Fiji's instability and lack of legitimate government following the coup has caused huge damage to Fiji socially and economically," Goff said.

"To many lives have been lost, Fiji's economy is set to retract by an estimated 15 percent and its international image severely undermined.

"Justice Gates decision provides the opportunity now to make progress, if key players including the interim government and the military are prepared to take it up.

"For security and stability to be restored, there must be the acceptance of sorting out difficulties by democratic process, not the use of violence.

"Possibly the best way forward would be for both the indigenous community and indo Fijian and all political parties to support the establishment of a Government of National Unity and reconciliation."

Goff said there needs to be goodwill and good faith on all sides. The alternative is a continuing threat of feuding between different factions of the Indigenous political elite, which has already caused so much damage.

"The needs of both communities and the more than a third of the country's population which is living below the poverty line, is to turn the country's focus on how to rebuild the economy and political institutions, rather than a power struggle between elites motivated by greed and self - interest.

"The whole of the international community would welcome such an approach. Fiji's closest neighbors and friends, in particular New Zealand and Australia, would be ready to assist in every way possible in that process," Goff said.

* See PN earlier reports: 

Title -- 3111 FIJI: Interim government rejects 'illegal' ruling Date -- 15 November 2000 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Pacnews, 1645 FT, 15/11/00 Copyright – Pacnews Status -- Unabridged

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