SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 29, 2001 - Fiji Sun/PINA Nius Online)---The National Council of the Fiji Labour Party has confirmed deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry as its leader.

And it has vowed to stand by Mr. Chaudhry, rejecting calls by some members for a change of leadership.

Labour President Jokapeci Koroi said the call for a leadership change is "divisive and harmful to party solidarity," adding that the National Council gave Mr. Chaudhry overwhelming support.

However, Mr. Chaudhry is still expected to face a leadership challenge when the caucus of Labour members elected to parliament in 1999 meets this coming weekend.

Deposed Deputy Prime Minister Tupeni Baba, who earlier said Mr. Chaudhry should not lead a proposed Government of National Unity, should it get the green light, stood by his statement.

"If Mr. Chaudhry is back as leader of the GNU, he is not going to be well received by the people," Dr. Baba said.

On his earlier statements on the leadership issue, Dr. Baba said: "Mr. Chaudhry did not swallow this easily."

Fiji Television reported Dr. Baba had been reprimanded by Mr. Chaudhry for his remarks to the media.

Fiji is governed by an interim administration following the May 19 coup last year during which indigenous Fijian rebels took Mr. Chaudhry - Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister - and his government hostage.

The interim administration is backed by the country's indigenous Fijian Great Council of Chiefs and the Fiji Military Forces. The military declared martial law last May 29 to halt growing unrest and violence after the seizure of Mr. Chaudhry's Labour-led coalition government.

The current Labour leadership struggle comes as the Fiji Court of Appeal prepares to hear an appeal by the interim administration. This is against a High Court judge's ruling that the 1997 constitution is intact and the interim administration not legal.

The Labour council meeting reiterated that for Fiji to return to normalcy it is important that a legitimate government be installed.

"Fiji will not move forward quickly unless democracy is restored," said Mrs. Koroi. "Parliament must be recalled and the nation should be governed by a legitimate government."

Mr. Chaudhry himself declined to comment after the council meeting. He said the meeting was an internal matter and did not concern the media.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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