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By Florence Syme-Buchanan

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (May 2 2002 – Cook Islands News)---Deputy Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Henry has scotched talk that he is making moves to depose Dr. Robert Woonton and take over as prime minister.

He described the allegations as "utter rubbish."

He says the allegation has been planted by a very senior government official who is a member of a taskforce that Sir Geoffrey claims has the aim of creating a split in Coalition IV.

According to Sir Geoffrey, the taskforce is made up of Opposition Democratic Party leader Dr. Terepai Maoate, DP President Iaveta Short and four public servants, three of whom hold senior posts.

Sir Geoffrey says he has informed his coalition partners about the taskforce.

"They’ve been pretty active at creating distrust among the three of us," he says.

"So far I have received no approaches from the other side for the CIP to break away from Coalition IV, but at least one member of the CIP has been approached."

The Deputy Prime Minister says the taskforce wants to split the CIP away from its coalition partners and form a new coalition with the Opposition. However, Sir Geoffrey says the CIP wish to continue with the coalition through its term.

A well-connected government source told a Cook Islands News staff member that Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Cook Islands Party Sir Geoffrey was making a bid to take over as prime minister.

Democratic Party President Iaveta Short says they’ve heard the same allegation, "but we have no comment."

"Do you think I would tell you?" he said laughing during a telephone interview.

However, he did say that everything was "up in the air" at this stage.

"It could go anywhere," he said.

"Maybe," was Short’s response when asked if Prime Minister Dr. Robert Woonton had met with Opposition leader Dr. Terepai Maoate this week.

Dr. Maoate has been reported saying his members would be prepared to form a government with Dr. Woonton as prime minister.

"But at this stage we’re not diving into anybody’s corner," Short says.

Cook Islands Party General Secretary Temu Okotai also found the claims of Cabinet conflict amusing, pointing out that Sir Geoffrey is preparing to leave for China.

"I don’t know anything about it. I don’t think the (CIP) executive is aware of it. That’s news to me," he says.

Describing Coalition IV as a "combination of a whole lot of people in government," Okotai says their executive is "quite some distance" from the goings on in Cabinet.

"I don’t know myself what is going on. Interesting."

Okotai believes another general election should be called because of the political instability witnessed since the 1999 general elections.

"Whoever will be the prime minister in the next round won’t make things better for the country because there are too many changes. The stability of the country is at stake."

Okotai says something must be done to stop the political "merry-go-round" and says Cook Islanders are sick and tired of it all.

Irritated when questioned about the allegation, chief executive of the Prime Minister’s Office Piho Rua responded that it was merely someone "creating news for the newspaper to be sold."

"That’s news to everybody."

He maintains that "there’s nothing to that effect" occurring within the coalition government.

The allegation of Cabinet conflict emerges as Coalition IV is set to mark its first 100 days in government in three weeks’ time.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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