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Fiji military chief reappointed to head government after constitution suspended

[JURIST] Commodore Josaia Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama [BBC profile], the head of the Fijian military, was reappointed Saturday [Reuters report] as prime minister of the country by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo [official profile] a day after Iloilo suspended the country's constitution [JURIST report] following a Thursday ruling [JURIST report] by the Fiji Court of Appeals that declared Bainimarama's original appointment as prime minister unconstitutional. Bainimarama led a 2006 coup d'etat [JURIST report] against the country's civilian government, removing the leadership while keeping the Fijian constitution intact. The court's Thursday ruling ordered the president to appoint a civilian prime minister until democratic elections for the post could be held. The reappointment of the military chief as head of government was met with condemnation [ABC report] by the United Nations and members of the Australian government, including Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd [official profile].

After the Friday announcement of the suspension of the constitution, US State Department [official website] spokesman Richard Aker criticized [press release] Iloilo's decision, saying it was a step backwards for the country, and calling on Fiji to continue to recognize rights outlined in the suspended constitution. In October, a Fijian lower court dismissed [JURIST report] a legal challenge to the 2006 coup brought by deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase [BBC profile]. The Fijian government has defended the coup as legal [JURIST report] because Iloilo had reserve powers that permitted him to dismiss the government and appoint new leaders, and he had given his permission to Bainimarama. Two days after the coup in December 2006, an interim prime minister had said that the coup was technically "illegal" [JURIST report] but necessary.

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