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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Profile: Fiji's Laisenia Qarase
Laisenia Qarase
Laisenia Qarase: Softly-spoken former banker
When Laisenia Qarase was first appointed Fiji's prime minister in 2000 as a response to the coup attempt which saw the toppling of the elected government, his political skills were an unknown quantity.

His interim administration was charged with organising the general election, formulating a rescue package for the ailing economy and drawing up a new constitution.

Laisenia Qarase
Born 1941
Educated Suva Boys Grammar School
Commerce degree from University of Auckland
1983 - managing director Fiji Development Bank
1998 -head of Fiji Merchant Bank
July 2000 - appointed interim prime minister
Just over one year later, Mr Qarase, an ethnic Fijian, has demonstrated his political acumen by winning office at the head of his own newly created party, the nationalist Soqoso Duavata ni Lewenivuana, taking 31 out of 71 parliamentary seats.

His campaign focused on indigenous Fijians' fears of political domination by the minority ethnic-Indian population which already controls much of the islands' economic life.

The softly spoken former banker first spelled out his programme in July 2000 when he issued his blueprint to move Fiji forward from the political coup, promising political priority for native Fijians and affirmative action to advance and accelerate their development.

But he insisted no one will be disenfranchised or excluded in his planning a common future. He said ethnic Indians, who make up 44% of the population, would not be left out in the cold when the new constitution was drawn up.

Ailing economy

Until last year, Mr Qarase, 59, had been better known as a banker than as a politician.

Mahendra Chaudhry - rejected by Fiji's voters
His career has seen him managing the Fiji Development Bank before leaving public service in 1998 to head the Merchant Bank of Fiji.

One year later he became a senator, nominated by Fiji's powerful Great Council of Chiefs.

Before the May 2000 coup, Mr Qarase was a constant critic of the government of ethnic-Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

As a banker he is acutely aware of the detrimental effect the coup has had on the country's economy.

Fiji's economy has been undermined by the crisis, with sugar production halted, tourist resorts closed and thousands of jobs lost following trade bans.

See also:

10 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Nationalist sworn in as Fiji PM
09 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Fiji risks new ethnic gulf
06 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji vote 'rigged' says former PM
03 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Fiji
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