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Fiji ready to name new leader



SUVA, Fiji -- Fiji will have a new prime minister sworn in on Monday but doubts over the shape of the new government remain.

Interim indigenous prime minister Laisenia Qarase is set to be installed as the Pacific nation's elected leader by the President's Office.

But in keeping with the rollercoaster ride that is Fijian politics, a government may not take shape in the wake of the recent election until court injunctions alleging vote-rigging are heard.

"The new prime minister of Fiji will be sworn in at 10 a.m. tomorrow (2200 GMT Sunday) at Government House," Colonel Jeremaia Waganisau told Reuters news agency.

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"Unless anything crops up, everything is set for tomorrow morning. At this stage I am not at liberty to reveal further details," he said.

Indigenous prime minister Laisenia Qarase announced he had cobbled together a coalition from last week's post-coup elections.

Qarase, installed by the military after armed nationalists toppled the government in May last year, won 31 seats in the 71-seat parliament and said he had joined with minor parties and independents without needing the support of coup leader George Speight, whose party won six seats.

But in a bizarre twist, ethnic Indian leader Mahendra Chaudhry, deposed and held hostage in the uprising, said he had forgiven Speight and was in talks with his ultra-nationalistic Conservative Alliance.

Chaudhry's Fiji Labour Party won 27 seats, too few to form a government without relying on Speight.

Chaudhry has claimed part of the voting process was rigged and on Sunday said he planned to go to the high court alleging vote fraud in at least six seats.

Unusual alliance

The military said ailing President Ratu Josefa Iloilo would conduct the swearing-in ceremony at Government House in the capital Suva.

In an apparently last-ditch bid to retain power, Chaudhry said he had forgiven Speight and that he had opened negotiations with the Conservative Alliance.

"What's reconciliation about if we can't forgive each other," Chaudhry told reporters.

"We have had discussions with the Conservative Alliance. The situation is fluid."

Qarase, leader of the nationalist Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party, has vowed never to serve under Chaudhry.

If, as it now appears certain, the former bureaucrat emerges as leader, it will end a 15-month bid by the country's large ethnic Indian community to reinstall Chaudhry's Labour.

Speight elected

Chaudhry is believed to have teamed with a minor party to file an injunction in Suva Monday over claims of vote-rigging in predominantly Labour stronghold electorates.

CNN's Connie Chew in Suva reported Saturday that the vote rigging allegations involved nine seats contested during the 2001 election.

Earlier, 500 party supporters met to applaud their new legislators, elect Qarase as leader and name a new executive of the party he formed just three months before the election to return the country to democracy following a May 2000 nationalist coup.

One of the six new lawmakers is George Speight, the jailed leader of last year's coup that unseated Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister.

Speight was elected from his prison cell, where he is awaiting trial on treason charges that carry the death penalty.






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