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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 07:10 GMT 08:10 UK
Fiji returns to democracy
PM Laisenia Qarase
Mr Qarase: No role for the Labour Party
Fiji's parliament has been formally opened, 16 months after armed nationalists toppled the government of the ethnic-Indian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry.

All but one of the MPs were sworn in yesterday - missing was ethnic-Fijian coup leader George Speight, who was elected despite being in jail awaiting trial on treason charges.

Never again must we allow the pain and trauma that we all suffered last year to recur

President Josefa Iloilo
A court on Monday rejected his bid to be released on bail to take up his seat.

The coalition government is dominated by the nationalist Fijian United Party of the Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, but he faces a legal challenge from Mr Chaudhry, who says the constitution guarantees cabinet seats for his Labour Party.

George Speight
Coup leader George Speight remains in prison
Mr Qarase's exclusion of the Indian-dominated Labour Party (FLP) from his coalition is in defiance of the constitution, which says any party with eight or more seats is entitled to cabinet positions.

Mr Qarase's Nationalist party won 31 seats in the recent general election, the Labour party was only four behind with 27 seats.

The prime minister defended his decision by saying his rival's proposals would have led to an unworkable government.

President's address

Opening parliament, President Josefa Iloilo attacked those who had called for international sanctions to be imposed during last year's coup crisis.

Thousands Fijians were adversely affected "not because of punitive actions against Fiji by other states or their governments, but through trade related sanctions imposed by overseas organisations at the instigation of some of our own people," he said.

Mahendra Chaudhry
Mahendra Chaudhry says he will take his case to court
Correspondents say Mr Chaudhry's Labour Party and trade union activists were at the forefront of those calling for sanctions at the time.

"This clearly was not a demonstration of love for our country, or of faith in our own system of rendering justice," President Iloilo said.

Sanctions imposed by Australia and New Zealand are still in place.

The president also condemned the coup as an "illegal... removal of a democratically-elected government".

"Never again must we allow the pain and trauma that we all suffered last year to recur," he said.

In May 2000, gunmen led by George Speight deposed Mr Chaudhry and laid siege to the nation's parliament, demanding a decisive governmental role for ethnic Fijians.

His Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua (MV) nationalist group won six seats in the election.

See also:

12 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji PM defies constitution
11 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji's political turmoil deepens
09 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Fiji risks new ethnic gulf
05 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji coup leader becomes MP
06 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji vote 'rigged' says former PM
03 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tourists trickle back to sun-baked Fiji
24 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji treason trial adjourned until 2002
10 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Fiji's Laisenia Qarase
03 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Fiji
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