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Fiji's indigenous PM wins a one-seat majority

Written by: Staff
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Suva, May 18 : Fiji's indigenous prime minister won a one-seat majority in racially charged general elections today but is on a collision course with the military, which has warned him not to grant amnesty to leaders of a 2000 coup.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said his indigenous SDL party had won 36 seats in the 71-seat parliament and also had the support of two independents.

''That should give us a comfortable working majority,'' Qarase told local radio before going to the president's office in the capital, Suva, to be sworn in for a new term.

Qarase has vowed to reintroduce a bill to grant amnesty to those involved in a 2000 coup, which toppled the South Pacific island nation's first ethnic Indian prime minister.

Outspoken military chief Frank Bainimarama told a news conference in Suva earlier on Thursday that the army would take the necessary steps to stop Qarase's amnesty law being passed.

Before the election he had threatened to topple the government if the law was passed.

''Take this message to the SDL camp. We are going to fight them all the way if that is going to be their message whether they become government or not,'' said Bainimarama.

''We will fight these bills if he brings them up again,'' he said, accusing Qarase of destabilising Fiji, which has had three racially motivated coups and an army mutiny since 1987.

It was Bainimarama who initially appointed Qarase as interim prime minister in 2000 after declaring martial law to end the coup.

Qarase won a general election the following year.

Indigenous Fijians make up 51 percent of the country's 906,000 population but fear that the economic clout of ethnic Indians, who dominate the sugar- and tourism-based economy, will be matched by political power.

Bainimarama said earlier today he hoped the independent MPs would join the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) of opposition leader Mahendra Chaudhry, the ethnic Indian leader toppled in the 2000 coup, and enable it to form a government.

In the event, the FLP finished with 31 seats and would have fallen short of a majority even with the support of all four independents.

Reuters

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