updated 1/5/2007 12:16:46 AM ET 2007-01-05T05:16:46

Fiji's military chief was sworn in as interim prime minister Friday, one month after seizing control of the South Pacific nation in an armed coup, dissolving Parliament and banishing the elected leader to an outlying island.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama promised to be "a true and faithful prime minister," during a swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Fiji's capital, Suva, which was broadcast live on national radio.

Bainimarama was sworn in by former President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, whom Bainimarama restored to power on Thursday.

Bainimarama's reinstatement of Iloilo came after a monthlong row with Fiji's influential tribal chiefs, who appoint the president and had refused to recognize the army chief's self-proclaimed presidential powers. The chiefs have not yet commented on Iloilo's endorsement of Bainimarama as interim prime minister.

The army deposed Iloilo and his vice president during a bloodless coup on Dec. 5 in which he dissolved Cabinet, suspended Parliament and banished the elected Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to his home island some 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Suva. It was the country's fourth coup in 20 years.

Post brings significant powers
The military strongman's appointment as interim leader cements his control over Fiji, as he now has authority to nominate new ministers in Fiji's caretaker government, expected to be announced later this month.

Under Fiji's constitution, the prime minister has a direct role in the day to day running of the nation, while the president's powers are largely ceremonial, including signing bills and appointing officials on the advice of the prime minister.

Bainimarama has said his interim Cabinet will be selected from a short list of 31 people before the end of January as the first step on Fiji's road to democracy, but he has not set a timeline for new elections.

In a national address, the military chief said one of his interim government's top mandates would be to secure immunity for himself and his officers over the Dec. 5 coup, and warned his opponents to keep quiet.

"I implore all those who may think about challenging, through whatever means or methods, the choice and wisdom of His Excellency (Iloilo) to think again," he said from the military headquarters in Suva. "We need to move forward."

Tribal chiefs resist coup
Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs, which has strong influence among the country's politically dominant indigenous majority and appoints the president, had refused to recognize Bainimarama's seizure of power and his ouster of Iloilo. The council vowed to uphold the rule of law, democracy and the Constitution.

In a rare address to the nation Thursday, the aged and ailing Iloilo said he would have done "exactly what the army commander did" at the time of the coup, and that it was valid under the law.

Council Chief Ratu Ovini reportedly declined to comment on Iloilo's statement, saying the council needed time to assess the legality of Bainimarama's actions and will be releasing a statement next week, according to online news site Fiji Live.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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