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Fiji government defends coup as legal in court hearing

[JURIST] Lawyers for the current acting Fijian government argued in court Wednesday that the December military coup [JURIST report] was legal because Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo [official profile] had reserve powers that permitted the president to dismiss the government and appoint new leaders. Former Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase [BBC profile] brought the lawsuit [JURIST report] against the acting government, saying that the coup that ousted him was illegal, and that it was orchestrated by armed forces chief and current self-appointed prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama [BBC profile]. Lawyers for the acting government say that Bainimarama sought and received permission from Iloilo to dismiss Qarase as prime minister, but Qarase argues that Bainimarama threatened Iloilo with a complete takeover if he did not agree to the dismissal.

Less than two days after December's coup, an interim Prime Minister installed by the military characterized the coup as "illegal" [JURIST report], but defended it as necessary. The case was to be heard by a three-judge panel led by Acting Chief Justice Anthony Gates, who was appointed [press release] after Bainimarama suspended former Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki [JURIST report]. AFP has more.

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