Fiji's powerful tribal chiefs on Friday refused to recognise last week's military takeover, and said they would hold consultations next week with the ousted prime minister on the country's future.
Great Council of Chiefs chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini said the group still considers one of its members, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, to be Fiji's president - a direct challenge to armed forces chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama's claim to have seized presidential powers on December 5.
"That is a non-issue," Bokini said of Iloilo's status. "He's still the president."
The opposition of the chiefs, who hold constitutional power to appoint the president and have huge influence among the South Pacific island nation's indigenous Fijian majority, is a stumbling block for Bainimarama's plans.
The commander declared last week that he had assumed some presidential powers, dismissed the government and taken over the country. He said he would appoint an interim administration, which would eventually call elections that would restore democracy.
Under Bainimarama's plan, the council next week was to reappoint Iloilo as president, who would then swear in the military's hand-picked government. Such a move would give the chiefs' tacit support to the takeover, and deflect possible future treason charges against Bainimarama by supporting his claim to be working within the Constitution.
Bainimarama on Wednesday escalated his standoff with the chiefs, saying the military could rule in Fiji for another 50 years if the chiefs failed to appoint his interim government.