Fiji Postpones Swearing in Cabinet
SUVA, Fiji (AP) _ Fiji lurched toward another government crisis Wednesday as the swearing in of a new Cabinet was postponed indefinitely, a move coup leader George Speight claimed he orchestrated.
Speight was dissatisfied with the Cabinet, which he said did not include enough of his supporters, and he objected to not having been adequately consulted in the formulation process, despite a promise from President Ratu Josefa Iloilo that he would be included in negotiations.
``I have been in touch with the president through a high-ranking chief of mine to express my disappointment,″ Speight told Australian television’s Channel Nine shortly before the postponement of the swearing in ceremony.
Speight said Iloilo had agreed to allow him to review the list of prospective ministers and that the ceremony would not proceed.
Announcing the postponement, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said Iloilo was unwell.
``Iloilo is ill disposed this morning so he is resting at his place,″ Qarase said at Borron House, where the ceremony was to have taken place.
The surprise came just one day after the new Cabinet lineup was announced.
Local radio reported that five of the 20 Cabinet ministers did arrive along with four of the 12 assistant ministers. It was not immediately clear how many of those who didn’t attend were supporters of Speight.
Details of Iloilo’s condition could not be independently verified. The frail 80-year-old tribal chief, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, was sworn in as president Tuesday.
Failed businessman Speight first threw Fiji into crisis on May 19 when he led an armed gang into Parliament and took dozens of lawmakers hostage, including former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.
Speight and his supporters finally deserted the parliamentary complex Wednesday, torching seven vehicles before they left to set up camp in a nearby village.
Heavily armed government troops immediately moved in and began combing buildings for explosive devices. Other soldiers kicked the cover of a pornographic video around the grounds. The grave of a Speight supporter buried Tuesday was piled high with flowers.
Speight’s coup was carried out in the name of guaranteeing political superiority and affirmative action for indigenous Fijians and promising redistribution of resources to benefit them.
He freed his last 18 hostages last Thursday as part of a deal that Speight said would disenfranchise ethnic Indians, who make up 44 percent of the 814,000 population but who dominate the economy in Fiji, a nation of 320 islands about 2,250 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia.
Confusion was apparent after Qarase’s announcement, though there were no immediate signs of unrest. Two sports utility vehicles, however, were found burned Wednesday morning in front of Parliament. They were believed to have been burned overnight.
``We are peeved,″ Kaliopate Tavola, tapped to be foreign minister in the new Cabinet, said of the postponement. ``We want to go ahead,″ he said, but added that ``there is obviously a genuine reason for it.″
At his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, Iloilo committed himself to forging reconciliation in his ethnically divided South Pacific nation.
``We are one, as one nation and one people,″ Iloilo said.
The new 20-member Cabinet was to have included at least two of Speight’s supporters and no ethnic Indians.
``It will result in a backlash,″ Speight had said Tuesday. ``They are treading on some dangerous ground. I think they are going to meet some stiff resistance.″
The only Indian slated to be involved in the new administration was George Shiu Raj, who was appointed one of two assistant ministers for multiethnic affairs _ a non-Cabinet post.
The demise of democracy in Fiji already has prompted Australia and New Zealand to impose sanctions on the country and other nations are expected to follow suit. Britain announced Tuesday it was recalling its top diplomat for consultations on the crisis.
Tavola said sanctions would be ``disastrous for Fiji″ and urged the international community ``to have some patience, some understanding of a complex situation.″