FIJI PM QARASE WELCOMES AUSTRALIA LIFTING SANCTIONS, CHAUDHRY UNHAPPY

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (October 6, 2001 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Fiji's Laisenia Qarase-led Government has viewed Australia's decision to lift sanctions imposed in last year's coup crisis as an endorsement of its existence.

Reconciliation Minister Josefa Vosanibola said Australia's decision would help the reconciliation process. Foreign Affairs Minister Kaliopate Tavola said: "It is obviously a vote of confidence in the Qarase Government."

But Mahendra Chaudhry, the prime minister deposed last year and now disputing the composition of the elected multiparty Cabinet, said Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer acted prematurely.

Mr. Chaudhry said: "I am very disappointed Mr. Downer has taken this action, which I feel sets a poor example for regional security and suggests Australia doesn't keep its word."

However, Ofa Duncan, a parliamentarian of the breakaway New Labour Unity Party, applauded Mr. Downer and said it is reassuring Australia felt "Fiji would deal with its own domestic problems."

Mr. Downer said Australia's sanctions were imposed to encourage a return to democratic rule.

He said he was encouraged by developments since last year's May 19 political crisis, especially a report by the United Nations and Commonwealth observer teams that the result of the recent election truly reflected the people's will.

He said the pending court case by Mr. Chaudhry's Labour Party challenging the legality of the way the Cabinet was formed was a separate issue.

"I am aware that there is a dispute on the constitutionality of the formation of the new government," Mr. Downer said.

"It is not Australia's role to judge this dispute. This is a matter for Fiji to settle in accordance with the proper procedures established under its legal system.

"A process to resolve this dispute is under way ... (importantly Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase) has publicly committed to abide by the ruling of the courts on this issue."

The Australian decision means:

Foreign Affairs Minister Tavola said he was expecting a statement from the Commonwealth Secretariat in London regarding Fiji's readmission to the councils of the Commonwealth.

He said he is anticipating a positive decision.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff -- whose past comments have caused some anger in Fiji -- said he is consulting the Commonwealth Secretariat before deciding whether to lift New Zealand's so-called "smart" sanctions.

Mr Goff said: "Commonwealth envoy Justice Pius Langa, a High Court Judge from South Africa, has just returned from Fiji where he has had discussions with the parties involved.

"I understand from Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon that a recommendation will be made to the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group in the coming week.

"New Zealand has welcomed the restoration of democracy in Fiji. Along with United Nations and Commonwealth election observer teams, we accept that the overall election process was free and fair, and that the outcome broadly represents the views of the people of Fiji.

"We also accept that as the leader of the largest party in Fiji and with the support of a majority of elected representatives, Mr. Qarase is properly Prime Minister of Fiji.

"The one outstanding concern is the question of whether s99(5) of the Fiji constitution has been complied with. This section requires all parties winning more than 10 percent of the vote to be invited to join the Government.

"Mr Qarase’s decision not to invite Mr. Chaudhry to join the Cabinet raises issues of constitutionality and is currently being challenged before the Court of Appeal. Both Mr. Qarase and Mr. Chaudhry have however undertaken to accept the outcome of the Court case and to respect the rule of law.

"New Zealand will discuss Commonwealth Justice Langa’s recommendations and the conclusions reached by the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group before making its own decision in this respect."

The Australian and New Zealand sanctions and reactions following the coup crisis led to a major shift in Fiji's foreign policy.

The interim, caretaker and now elected governments led by Mr. Qarase have emphasized a new "Look North" policy of strengthening ties with Asia.

Fiji has opened an embassy in Beijing and is reinforcing its presence in Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur.

Earlier this month Mr. Qarase and the Cabinet signaled the emphasis on developing the ties with Asia when they all went to the opening of a Japan-Pacific Islands human resource development symposium in Nadi.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was among the high-level Japanese participation in this symposium.

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 

 

SPEIGHT LAWYER SEEKING JUDICIAL REVIEW OF HIGH COURT DECISION DENYING BAIL

SUVA, Fiji Islands (October 7, 2001 – Radio Australia)---A lawyer representing Fiji coup leader George Speight is seeking a judicial review of a High Court decision denying him bail.

As Radio Australia correspondent Francis Herman reports, Mr. Speight is in custody on charges related to last year's overthrow of the Fiji Labour Party government:

"George Speight won a seat in Parliament in August’s general elections representing his home province of Tailevu. He stood as a member of the Conservative Alliance Party, which comprises the bulk of the ringleaders of last year’s takeover of the elected government members.

"Under section 71 of Fiji's constitution, a member of the House of Representatives loses his or her seat if the member is absent from two consecutive sessions of Parliament without having obtained the permission of the speaker. The Speight camp is expected to seek that permission before next month's session of Parliament.

"In the meantime, his lawyer is seeking a judicial review of the High Court's decision denying bail. Failing that, Speight will take his fight to the United Nations, using the Charter of Human Rights.

"His lawyer is arguing that the courts must uphold his client’s right to represent his constituency as its elected parliamentarian in Fiji's House of Representatives.

"Francis Herman, Radio Australia, Suva."

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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