Fiji coup leader assumes top post

Published January 5, 2007

SUVA, Fiji (AP) - Fiji's military chief took office today as the South Pacific nation's interim prime minister, formally assuming the power he seized by force one month ago in an armed coup.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama promised to be "a true and faithful prime minister" during a swearing in ceremony in Fiji's capital, Suva.

Bainimarama was sworn in by former President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, whom he reinstated to the largely ceremonial post yesterday.

The military chief seized power in a bloodless coup Dec. 5. He dissolved the Cabinet, suspended Parliament and deposed both Iloilo and elected Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, whom he banished to his home island 190 miles north of Suva.

The coup - Fiji's fourth in nearly two decades - was the culmination of a long impasse between Bainimarama and Qarase over bills offering pardons to conspirators in a 2000 coup and handing lucrative coastal land ownership to indigenous Fijians. Bainimarama, himself an indigenous Fijian, said the bills were unfair to the island's ethnic Indian minority.

The military ruler initially assumed presidential powers. But he relinquish that claim and reinstated Iloilo after a dispute with the country's influential Great Council of Chiefs, which has strong influence among Fiji's politically dominant indigenous majority. The council had maintained that both Qarase and Iloilo were the legitimate powers.