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Fiji Court Refuses to Sack Govt.

July 11, 2001

SUVA, Fiji (AP) _ Fiji’s High Court cleared the way for fresh elections by refusing Wednesday to fire an interim government installed last year after a nationalist coup.

A pro-democracy group, including lawmakers ousted in the coup, had asked the court to declare that President Josefa Iloilo acted illegally in setting up a caretaker government in the aftermath.

Had the court agreed, Fiji would have lurched into a fresh constitutional crisis that almost certainly would have delayed elections aimed at restoring democracy.

Judge Michael Scott ruled some of Iloilo’s actions were ``inconsistent with the constitution.″ But he refused to fire the caretaker administration of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, saying that it would ``lead to a major break down of law and order.″

Scott also said it was too late to recall Parliament, which has not met since the coup.

Masked gunmen stormed Parliament on May 19, 2000, taking then-Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his government hostage before surrendering. Fiji has since been wracked by instability, declining economic performance and a brief army mutiny.

Iloilo is now expected on Thursday to formally call elections for Aug. 25 to Sept. 1.

Iloilo has consistently said fresh elections are the quickest route back to democracy for the small South Pacific state, where Fijian Indians make up 44 percent of the 820,000 population.

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