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Fiji Swears in Nationalist Prime Minister After Narrow Election Victory


Fiji's nationalist Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has narrowly won a second term in office in what has been a racially charged election. Mr. Qarase is now promising amnesty for the coup leaders who in 2000 toppled the Pacific island's first ethnic Indian prime minister and Mr. Qarase's defeated challenger.

Laisenia Qarase was sworn in for a second term as prime minister Thursday in the capital Suva shortly after this month's election results were confirmed.

The hard line nationalist, with the support of independents, scored a narrow victory over his ethnic-Indian rival, Mahendra Chaudhry. His S.D.L. party won 36 of the 71 seats in parliament.

Mr. Qarase now plans to introduce a controversial bill to grant amnesty to Fiji's nationalist coup leaders who in 2000 toppled Mahendra Chaudhry - the country's first elected ethnic Indian leader.

Fiji's military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, says he will challenge such a move.

"They keep reminding us of the ballot boxes and that they have got the endorsement of the people of Fiji. I agree, but as I have also continuously said in the past getting into parliament is not about numbers. It's about good governance. It's about the rule of law," said Bainimarama. "But if a political party tries to fight the Fiji military forces after the events of 2000, I don't think that is going to work out and I don't think it is going to auger well for the security of this nation."

A failed indigenous businessman, George Speight, led the coup. He was convicted of treason and is serving a life sentence. Other plotters also received jail terms, including a former vice president of Fiji.

Ethnic Indians in Fiji comprise about 44 percent of the population but dominate business in the tourism and sugar-based economy.

This month's elections results show racial divisions remain strong. Native Fijians have mostly supported Mr. Qarase's nationalist candidates, while the ethnic Indian minority has backed Mahendra Chaudhry's opposition party.

The big question in Fiji now is whether the military will intervene again in the island nation's turbulent politics.

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