Fiji's prime minister says his government should be reinstated

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SUVA, Fiji - Fiji's deposed prime minister said Saturday he would seek reinstatement of his government, but admitted he has few options if indigenous Fijians don't agree to restore democracy.

Released from eight weeks as a hostage, Mahendra Chaudhry vowed to try to reverse the victories by the rebels who held him, even after the military and influential tribal chiefs bowed to their demands to strip Fiji's ethnic Indians of their political rights.

Chaudhry said the decision to disenfranchise the Indian minority and guarantee the superiority of indigenous Fijians had ''torn at the very fabric of society.''

A rash of civil disturbances across Fiji over the past 11 days has largely eased since rebels led by George Speight freed Chaudhry and 17 other captive legislators Thursday. Tribal chiefs then accepted Speight's two nominees for president and vice president.

But Fiji now faces near certain international sanctions and an uncertain political future.

The man Speight had installed as the new president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, is to name a Cabinet. But the question is whether it will be acceptable to Speight, who has demanded all his nominees be confirmed in the Cabinet and in a commission to rewrite the constitution along racial lines.

If Iloilo doesn't succumb to the pressure, many fear Speight's supporters will resume occupying police stations and other public facilities. Occupations in recent days have been largely without bloodshed but have wrecked the tourism industry.

Iloilo and his vice president were expected to name the Cabinet by Monday, with rumors abounding of numerous scenarios.

''I feel sorry for him,'' Chaudhry said, pointing out that some people will be unhappy no matter what Iloilo does. The new president is 79, suffers from Parkinson's and relies on bottled oxygen.

Chaudhry, Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, is now looking for ways to get his office back.

''The opposite of this would be to condone an act of anarchy and unlawful seizure of the government,'' he said. ''We don't have much of a choice, do we? At all costs we must support democracy.''

Officials from his ousted coalition government are to meet next week to consider legal options.

International sanctions appear likely - Chaudhry endorsed them - but that threat has seemed to have little effect on the rebels who overthrew the country.

''A vocal and violent minority holds the whole country ransom,'' Chaudhry, freshly shaven and shorn of the long hair he grew in captivity, told reporters gathered on the lawn of his home.

Concerns were intensified after the military reported Saturday that Speight's men had not turned in all the weapons they seized from an armory to storm Parliament on May 19.

Ethnic Indians, disenfranchised and despondent, are trying to regroup, with many planning to leave the country. Chaudhry said there was little he could say to dissuade them.

''I'm hardly in a position to advise them otherwise,'' Chaudhry said. ''It's a natural thing for them to want to find a safe home.'' Ethnic Indians currently make up 44 percent of the population.

Speight says he acted on behalf of indigenous Fijians discontented with Indian power when he and an armed gang raided parliament and took dozens of lawmakers hostage.

In the days after parliament's seizure, Speight supporters looted and burned ethnic Indian homes and businesses.


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