PEACE BEFORE COURT RULINGS, SAYS FIJI PRESIDENT'S OFFICE

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By Charles Chambers

SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 15, 2001 - Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Government House has decided that peace and order will remain the most important issue in Fiji - even if it means disregarding the Justice Gates ruling.

This was disclosed yesterday by the former permanent secretary in the President's Office, Luke Ratuvuki.

"Right now, peace is the top priority on the list and everything else comes after that," he said.

This includes the ruling made by a High Court judge, Justice Anthony Gates, that the 1997 constitution is still in force and the interim government is not legal.

Mr. Ratuvuki said: "This is putting reality before anything else. We don't want any bloodshed because we know what will happen if the ruling is upheld."

Justice Gates, following an application by farmer Chandrika Prasad, ruled that the 1997 Constitution is still the law of the land. He had, however, suggested that a government of national unity would be the best way for the country to proceed.

An application by the interim government for a stay order against the ruling was rejected by Justice Gates and his ruling is to be appealed against in the Fiji Court of Appeal.

The interim government led by interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase is supported by the country's Great Council of Chiefs and the Fiji Military Forces.

It was appointed following the military's declaration of martial law to stop growing lawlessness and violence following the May 19 coup by indigenous Fijian gunmen led George Speight. Speight and his supporters took hostage the country's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and his Fiji Labour Party-led government.

Mr. Ratuvuki said President Ratu Josefa Iloilo knows that if the Justice Gates ruling is upheld, there will be bloodshed.

"That is what the President does not want and that is why Justice Gates’ ruling has come secondary to peace and order," he said.

Mr. Ratuvuki said the same system was employed in Singapore, where order came first and the law second to maintain peace among Malays, Indians, and Chinese.

Mr. Ratuvuki hit out at deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his deputy, Dr. Tupeni Baba, for saying that statements coming out of Government House were probably Mr. Ratuvuki's personal utterances.

"One thing that they should understand is that I cannot make statements because the President is the head of Fiji and it would be disrespectful," Mr. Ratuvuki said.

"Instead, both of them should concentrate on the real issues that are gripping this country right now.

"Our country is built on culture and tradition, totally different in its setup to other countries.

"This culture and tradition is far more important than money or anything else. That should be realized by everyone."

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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