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NADI, Fiji Islands (September 14, 2001 – The Times of India/AP)---The Labour Party, locked out of government by newly elected indigenous Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, said on Thursday it is considering seeking international trade sanctions against Fiji.

Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry said his ethnic-Indian dominated party was discussing whether to call for sanctions and further tightening of defense, sports and education bans already imposed by major trading partners, including Australia and New Zealand.

"Fiji is again a racist state under the Qarase government," Chaudhry said. "He has marginalized Fiji's 44 percent Indian population by relegating them to permanent opposition."

Qarase on Wednesday named a Cabinet made up almost exclusively of indigenous Fijians, despite a clause in the Constitution requiring any political party with more than eight legislators to claim Cabinet seats.

Labor sought 47 percent of the Cabinet posts to reflect its election vote, but Qarase said his exclusion of Labor was legal.

Qarase's SDL won 31 seats and Labor 27 in the 71 seat Parliament in recent elections.

Qarase claimed Labor had rejected the SDL's policies and was clearly unwilling to promote "the objective of a stable and workable government."

Fiji's 820,000 people comprise 44 percent ethnic Indians and 51 percent indigenous Fijians.

Tensions between the two races have risen in recent years as ethnic Indians accumulated more wealth and political power, leading to the May 2000 coup of failed businessman George Speight which ousted Chaudhry, the country's first Indian prime minister.

Speight was elected to Parliament from his prison cell where he is awaiting trial on treason charges. His hardline nationalist Conservative Alliance Party won six seats and were given two Cabinet posts.

An official with the Commonwealth -- a group of Britain and its former colonies -- said Thursday Fiji likely would be welcomed back onto the organization's decision making committees next month following its return to democracy.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) secretary general Arthur Donohoe, said Fiji's status would be considered by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Brisbane next month. It was suspended following the coup.

For additional reports from the Times of India, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Times of India: Asia-Pacific News.

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