SYDNEY - Fiji's newly-appointed caretaker prime minister admitted Thursday that toppling the country's elected government was illegal, but defended the coup and said fresh elections were up to two years away.
In his first public comments since being sworn in Wednesday, Jona Senilagakali, a 77-year-old military doctor, also defended a crackdown on civil liberties saying Fiji did not need the same sort of democracy as Western nations.
The figurehead appointee said he had no choice but to take the job after being ordered to do so by military chief Voreqe Bainimarama.
Senilagakali, who replaces prime minister Laisenia Qarase who was ousted by
Bainimarama in Tuesday's bloodless coup, conceded the takeover was illegal but said it was preferable to keeping the former "corrupt" government in power.
"There's no doubt about it. It is an illegal take-over," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"It's an illegal take-over to clean up the mess of a much bigger illegal activity of the previous government.
"So what choice do you have? To me, it's better that you do this illegal activity to clean up a much bigger, illegal mess so that we can bring peace...to the people of Fiji," he said.
Fresh democratic elections in Fiji could however be "12 months to two years" away, Senilagakali said.
Bainimarama on Tuesday said he had temporarily taken over the presidency and said he would install a transitional government by next week. He said fresh elections would be held when the country was stable again, but gave no date.
The new prime minister said he had no idea he would be appointed until Bainimarama announced it to the nation, saying he had been "very, very surprised".
"He just went, when he made the press conference the other day, and he just made the announcement. I had no choice.
"Whatever the commander tells me to do, I have no choice but to do it," he said, adding that Bainimarama later told him he had not consulted with him as he knew Senilagakali would refuse.
He also warned Australia and New Zealand to leave Fiji alone, not to impose sanctions and said Fiji's did not need the same sort of democracy as other countries.
"Democracy may be alright for certain people in the world, but I don't think the type of democracy Fiji needs is the type Australia and New Zealand enjoy," he said. - AFP/ir