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Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Tall order for Fiji's interim PM
Qarase and military
Qarase was appointed by the military which intervened during the coup
Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, an ethnic Fijian, was chosen to dig his country out of its political crisis and to mend fences with the outside world.

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

On 13 July 2000, he issued his blueprint to move Fiji forward from the political coup, promising political paramountcy for native Fijians and affirmative action to advance and accelerate their development.

Indigenous Fijians (must) safeguard the paramountcy of their interests in our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society

Laisenia Qarase
But he faced the implacable opposition of rebel leader George Speight, whose brand of militant nationalism led him to stage a coup on 19 May, unseating the ethnic Indian-led government.

The prime minister ruled out a return to the multi-ethnic constitution of 1997 that allowed the election of his predecessor Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian leader.

That constitution was abrogated when the military seized power in May and took Mr Chaudhry and 26 others hostage.

George Speight has refused to recognise the new government
But the prime minister 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.

His cabinet contained one minister from the Indian community. Four of Mr Speight's supporters secured ministerial or assistant ministerial posts.

Fiji's allies expressed their dissatisfaction with this state of affairs, and some took steps such as trade and other sanctions and reducing aid.

Ailing economy

Mr Qarase, 59, is better known as a banker than as a politician. He is general manager of the Fijian Merchant Bank and is a former director of the Fiji Development Bank.

Fiji cabinet is sworn in
Laisenia Qarase and his cabinet have much work ahead
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.

In his first statement to the nation after being appointed, the prime minister said a swift end to the coup would enable the government to move quickly to arrest the decline in the economy.

"The crucial thing now is to restore confidence in the economy. Without confidence, consumers will not spend, investors will not invest, tourists will not come, and other countries will not buy our goods."

See also:

04 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Gun battle at Fiji's parliament
02 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Military to pressure Fiji rebels
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight's hold over Fiji
11 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji coup begins to bite
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji hostages' long ordeal
29 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Fiji's divided army
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