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Citizens Group Condemns Qarase Over Fiji Conflict

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): A Fiji civil society lobby group today condemned Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase for making Fijian language speeches fuelling controversy and conflict over the constitution.

The Citizens Constitutional Forum also criticised the country's news media for adding confusion, claiming they lacked depth in reporting constitutional issues.

Executive director Rev Akuila Yabaki singled out the Fiji Times as an example, citing today's front page story headlined "Constitution's in a mess: PM".

According to the Times, Qarase told the Tailevu Provincial Council - in the heartland of supporters of coup front man George Speight - in Fijian that Fiji's supreme law was "riddled with weaknesses, compexities and confusion".

"[Qarase] said the weaknesses in the constitution had contributed to the worsening of the polarisation of culture and race," the Fiji Times reported.

But Rev Yabaki accused Qarase and his government colleagues of creating the "political mess" by refusing to "abide by the letter and spirit of the constitution".

"They have gone to court at enormous cost to the taxpayers and compelled other parties to go to court on matters that are crystal clear when one reads the constitution," he said in a statement.

"They claim the constitution to be confusing when the provisions they encounter do not facilitate what they desire, which is illegal."

Rev Yabaki said that one of the fundamental purposes of the 1997 constitution was to reduce racial conflict by bringing political parties together for multiparty government.

But Qarase's Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party (SDL) favoured indigenous Fijian political supremacy and did not want voluntary power-sharing in government as provided by the constitution.

"So it goes to court to delay or prevent the inevitable," Rev Yabaki said.

"Only to be told the obvious - that they are in breach of their constitutional duties to advise the president correctly.

"The government does not like to be told by the courts that it has been conducting itself illegally. So the Prime Minister resorts to attacking the courts through a speech in Parliament and unspecific emotional statements in the Fijian language to Fijian audiences."

Rev Yabaki was also sharply critical of Fiji's news media.

He said there was confusion in the minds of people, including politicians, because the media was inadequate in explaining the full meaning of last week's constitutional judgment by the Supreme Court.

Rev Yabaki blamed the media's "inadequacy" on its "interest in conflict and sensationalism".

The court ruled in favour of the Fiji Labour Party, saying that it was constitutionally entitled to nominate eight senators - double the number allowed by the Qarase government.

Labour, deposed in the May 2000 attempted coup, has won a series of recent legal judgments against the government.


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