AXED FIJI PM CHAUDHRY FIGHTS BACK

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 19, 2001 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Deposed Fiji Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry will take personal legal action against President Ratu Josefa Iloilo over his dismissal.

Mr. Chaudhry said his dismissal was unlawful and unconstitutional and his lawyers were working on the matter.

He expects to be briefed this week on legal action he can take.

Ratu Josefa dismissed Mr. Chaudhry on Wednesday afternoon before appointing Ratu Tevita Momoedonu as prime minister.

Ratu Tevita was prime minister for about 24 hours, enabling Ratu Josefa to dissolve parliament and appoint a caretaker government.

Mr. Chaudhry said his dismissal was only possible under Section 109 (1) of the Constitution, had he advised Ratu Josefa that he had lost the confidence of the House of Representatives. Mr. Chaudhry said it was clear the decision was based on an "incorrect assumption.''

Mr. Chaudhry's People's Coalition and the Fiji Labour Party are also seeking legal advice over actions taken by Ratu Josefa and interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase after the Court of Appeal ruling that the 1997 constitution is still in force.

Mr. Chaudhry said no Indian member of the People's Coalition will be party to the interim administration. Mr. Chaudhry said Mr. Qarase's intention to have representatives from the Indian community in his interim administration was uncalled for.

He said no member of his government would be a party to Mr. Qarase's team.

However, People's Coalition Labour Minister Tevita Momoedonu retains his post in Cabinet.

"The interim administration is illegal and the deposed Members of Parliament are the only true representatives of the Indian community,'' said Mr. Chaudhry.

In other developments:

* Caretaker Labour Minister Ratu Tevita Momoedonu said he will accept the former prime minister's pension entitlement payable to him.

As long as the prime minister serves for less than a year, he is entitled to 20 percent of the prime minister's salary of almost $70,000 per year. "Yes, this time I am accepting it,'' Ratu Tevita said.

Ratu Tevita said he believed he deserved the pension this time because he accepted to do it again at a crucial time.

Ratu Tevita had refused the entitlement the last time citing he was a member of the People's Coalition government. Ratu Tevita was appointed prime minister for about five minutes by former President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara during the hostage crisis after the May 19 coup

At the time Mr. Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, and his government were held hostage by indigenous Fijian gunmen.

In both situations, Ratu Tevita stepped in as prime minister to facilitate the transfer of executive authority to both Presidents.

Ratu Josefa Iloilo reappointed Ratu Tevita last week to call for the dissolution of Parliament after which Ratu Josefa appointed the Caretaker Prime Minister Mr. Qarase.

* The caretaker government should trim its Cabinet instead of creating new portfolios to cater for the Indian community, said the National Federation Party yesterday.

Secretary Attar Singh said it was unwise of Mr. Qarase to reappoint his entire team and set up an oversized Cabinet.

He said the issue of having Indians in Cabinet had not been discussed by the Federation party.

"We have not been approached and can not say whether we will decline or accept the offer of joining the administration,'' Mr. Singh said.

On preparations for fresh elections, Mr. Singh said it was too early to comment as a date was yet to be fixed. He said the party had nationwide support but members had not discussed the elections.

* The Fiji Labour Party has sought to extend an injunction to stop the Constitution Review Commission from continuing with its work.

The injunction, which was granted by the Lautoka High Court on January 17, was to have expired last Friday.

Mr. Chaudhry said his party sought an extension from last week until May. He said Ratu Josefa's instruction to continue with the review of the 1997 Constitution after it was upheld by the Appeals Court was illegal.

The party said the Constitution Review Commission made a mockery of law and order by continuing to operate even after the High Court ruling had upheld the 1997 Constitution.

* Court action against the work of the Constitutional Review Commission is counterproductive, said member Joe Singh.

He said the extension of an injunction filed in Lautoka Court preventing the commission from continuing with public hearing would only delay the return to democratic rule.

"Everything has just happened with the injunction filed last Friday and we're waiting for Mr. Rigamoto, the CRC secretary, to inform us of what we need to do next,'' he said.

Commission secretary Walter Rigamoto said they had to rearrange all previous deadlines for submissions because of the injunction.

"I will need to consult with Attorney-General Alipate Qetaki and members of the caretaker government before deciding on our next course of action.'' He said.

''What people need to realize that we are not making changes to the Constitution. We're merely preparing a report that will be submitted to the new Parliament most probably after August for debate,'' said Mr. Rigamoto.

He said they would continue to encourage Indians to make submissions for their own benefit. ''We haven't had much response because word has gone out from the various Indian political parties not to co-operate with us. But we will still encourage Indians to make submissions as a matter of principle.''

* The biggest task for the Elections Office in the coming months will be a public awareness program on the preferential voting system.

A source at the Elections Office said they expected some opposition to the system, which swept the Labour Party into power in May 1999.

"Especially at the village level where the villagers are asking why we are still using the system because they do not see any good coming out of it,'' he said.

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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