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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Mahendra Chaudhry is Fiji's new finance minister

The ethnic Indian leader, who was ousted as Fiji's prime minister in a coup six years ago, has been named the finance minister.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2007 11:48 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Mahendra Chaudhry, who was ousted as Fiji's prime minister in a coup six years ago, was returned to government on Tuesday by the country's military chief who assumed power after a military takeover last month.

Military Commander Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama, who has had himself sworn in as prime minister, named Chaudhry as finance minister with additional responsibilities for national planning, public enterprises and reform of the sugar industry.

Although Bainimarama insists it is an interim government, another minister, Jona Senilagakali, who has the health portfolio, told Australia's ABC Radio that he believed it would be at least a year before new elections would be held.

Chaudhry, who was the first ethnic Indian to become prime minister after his Labour Party won an election in 1999, was overthrown the following May by an armed group of indigenous Fijian nationalists led by businessman George Speight.

He and members of his cabinet were held hostage at parliament by Speight and his supporters for over seven weeks before the military installed indigenous Fijian banker Laisenia Qarase as prime minister.

Bainimarama overthrew Qarase on December 5, claiming his government was corrupt, introduced policies favouring indigenous Fijians over the Indian minority and was planning to pardon Speight, who is serving a life sentence for treason, and his fellow coup plotters.

Chaudhry said his appointment was a "strange twist of destiny" because he had been given the same post in 1987 when former military chief and prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka overthrew the first government dominated by ethnic Indians, although it was led by Fijian Timoci Bavadra.

Both New Zealand and Australia have condemned Bainimarama's coup and announced sanctions, including a warning that anyone taking a post in his government would be banned from entering their countries.

Senilagakali said the interim administration would look for economic support from China if Australia and New Zealand continued to shun the new military-backed regime.

First Published: Jan 09, 2007 11:48 IST