[JURIST] A Fijian court Thursday began hearing the case brought by former Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase [BBC profile] against Fiji's current acting government over allegations that the December military coup [JURIST report] that ousted him was illegal. Central to the government's defense is the constitutional interpretation of the largely ceremonial powers of Fiji's president. A lawyer for Qarase has said the coup was orchestrated by armed forces chief and current self-appointed prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama [BBC profile], but lawyers for the present government argue that Bainimarama sought and received permission from Fijian President Josefa Iloilo [official profile] to dismiss Qarase as prime minister. Qarase's lawyer argues that Bainimarama threatened the 86-year-old Iloilo with a complete takeover of executive authority after Qarase refused Bainimarama's request that he resign.
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 will 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]. A time frame for arguments or a ruling has not yet been established. AP has more. The Fiji Times has local coverage.