Fijian military rulers to appoint new judges

Fiji's military regime will appoint new top judges early next week to replace justices sacked two weeks ago when the president abolished the nation's constitution, an official said.

Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum said naming new judges is key in gaining the confidence of Fiji's citizens and of other states.

"That is a priority and an issue that the interim regime needs to address and address well, because it really is a cornerstone of our survival," he told New Zealand's National Radio.

Eight magistrates appointed last week to lower Magistrates' Courts began hearing cases earlier this week.

But the High Court, Appeal Court and Supreme Court remain shut and officials have postponed hearings for up to a month.

Military government spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said appointments to the top courts would take place shortly.

"We're looking at next week. If not Monday, it'll probably be Tuesday when the judges will be sworn in," he told Radio New Zealand International today, adding, "you'd be surprised, it hasn't been difficult" to find new candidates.

The comments came after an official from Fiji's High Court issued a decree preventing legal challenges to decisions made by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo or other leaders since Fiji's fourth military coup in December 2006.

In notices posted at court entrances in the capital, Ana Rokomokoti, the High Court's acting registrar, said it would not accept any complaints relating to the abrogation of Fiji's constitution on April 10 or any other government actions since the coup that ousted the democratic government.

The move came eight days before a deadline for Fiji to set a date for democratic elections or become the first country to be suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum regional grouping.

On April 9, Fiji's Court of Appeal ruled that the 2006 coup by military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama was illegal, along with all decisions made by his military-led government.

President Iloilo responded by abolishing the constitution, firing the nation's judges, imposing emergency rule and reinstating Mr Bainimarama and his Cabinet.

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