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Fiji Prez appeals for unity as new Parliament opens

Ratu Josefa Iloilo appealed for national unity in the racially-divided South Pacific country.

india Updated: Jun 06, 2006 11:15 IST

Fiji's President appealed for national unity on Tuesday in the racially-divided South Pacific country as the new parliament met for the first time since the inauguration of a multi-party government.

"Our country is entering a fresh period of its history, with the formation of a cabinet that is truly representative of our different ethnic and cultural communities," Ratu Josefa Iloilo said in his opening speech.

A multi-party Cabinet has been formed following polls last month in which Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's United Fiji Party (SDL) retained control.

The SDL dominates the cabinet but it also includes nine members from the SDL's bitter rivals, the Fijian Labour Party.

"The challenge is for all of you in government and in parliament to make it work for Fiji," Iloilo said.

"Let it usher in a new era of cooperation both in Cabinet and in Parliament."

Although the multi-party cabinet includes Labour Party ministers, the party's leader and former opposition leader Mahendra Chaudhry decided to remain outside the Cabinet.

He has refused to hand over the opposition leader's offices to his replacement Mick Beddoes, whose United People's Party -- with two legislators -- is the sole official opposition in the 71-seat Parliament.

Chaudhry has indicated he and other Labour MPs not in the Cabinet will continue to play an opposition role.

Chaudhry was ousted as Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister in a racially-inspired 2000 coup. May's elections highlighted ethnic divisions in the country of 900,000, with indigenous Fijians supporting the Nationalist SDL and ethnic Indians -- who make up less than 40 per cent of the population -- backing Labour.

The requirement for a multi-party cabinet is designed to overcome the racial divide and has been in the constitution since 1997. But previous attempts to negotiate a multi-party cabinet foundered in acrimony.

The multi-party arrangement is likely to come under strain over a number of contentious issues, including the SDL's plans to offer amnesties to those involved in the 2000 coup.

First Published: Jun 06, 2006 11:15 IST