In 1970 Fiji gained its independence as a member of the British Commonwealth and Ratu Sir Kimisese Mara was elected as prime minister. It should be noted that Fiji's population was divided about equally between native ethnic Fijians and ethnic Indians. However in 1977 a government could not be formed from fear that ethnic Fijians would not approve of the Indo-Fijian government. Fiji got its first Indian-led government in 1987 when Dr. Timoci Bavadra won the general election. Only one month later Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, an ethnic Fijian, staged a military coup in 1987 and took power from the democratically ethnic Indian government. Fiji was declared a republic and created a new constitution that gave ethnic Fijians a disproportionate share of power in the new government. The coup drew protests from India's government, led to Fiji being expelled from the Commonwealth and the new government was officially "unrecognized" by many states, including New Zealand and Australia. Rabuka was elected prime minister in 1992, and Mara was appointed president in 1994. Many Indians fled the country following the coup, and the government released statistics showing that ethnic Fijians were the majority population for the first time since 1946.
In 1997 the constitution was amended to give non-ethnic Fijians a more equal role in government (although the presidency was reserved for ethnic Fijians), it was also readmitted to the Commonwealth, and in 1999 Mahendra Chaudhry, an ethnic Indian, was elected prime minister, replacing Rabuka. One year later, in 2000, Fijian nationalist George Speight launched a coup and took Chaudhry hostage, demanding an end to Indian participation in Fijian politics. As a result of the ensuing crisis, the military took power and President Mara was forced to resign. The army appointed an ethnic Fijian- dominated government led by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and Ratu Josefa Iloilo as president. Spreight released his hostages soon after and demanded a powerful role in government but was arrested, put on trial for treason, and sentenced to life in prison. However this did not mean a complete end to the crisis, as Qarase's government was ruled illegal by the courts. New parliamentary elections were held in 2001 and Qarase became prime minister again. But the new government was ruled unconstitutional because it did not include members of the Indian-dominated opposition Labour Party, although Labour refused to join the new government because Chaudhry was excluded. The conflicts left the already divided nation even more divided and at odds with deep ethnic divisions and informal segregation.
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