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Nauru's new chief still keen on refugee centreThe government of Nauru has indicated there will be no change in its support of the Coalition's plan to reopen the Howard-era refugee processing centre, despite the sudden resignation last week of Nauru president Marcus Stephen.
Stephen, who was elected on a mandate to end corruption, resigned following a public controversy generated by the leak of an email he had sent to a large buyer of the Pacific nation's phosphate, in which he allegedly appeared to solicit a bribe.
Along with Foreign Minister Kieren Keke, who changed ministerial portfolios as part of a cabinet reshuffle, Stephen had been one of the key backers of the processing centre.
Nauru's new President, Frederick Pitcher, told Nauru media there would be no change in the government's course, despite the departure of his predecessor.
“It doesn't involve anyone losing their positions, although one minister has asked to step down,” Pitcher said of the changes.
Senior Nauru government officials contacted by The Australian said the change in the presidency would not make “a single iota of difference” to the Nauru solution.
“The proposal does not change with the reshuffle,” said one minister. “Anyone saying otherwise is playing politics.”
The opposition's immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, was expected to try to speak to Mr Pitcher soon to discuss the Coalition's proposal. He said the Coalition looked forward to working with the new President.
Stephen has denied he was soliciting a financial favour in the email, but the opposition accused him of seeking a bribe.
A government spokesman said Stephen's email included a throwaway line that had been wrongly interpreted as him seeking a financial bonus for selling the customer huge amounts of phosphate.
Opposition politicians and even some of Stephen's cabinet colleagues were concerned about the email. It is understood Stephen would have been pressed by his own leadership team to quit if he had not first stepped down.
“Marcus said he meant nothing by it and it was a joke and of no consequence, but it is not the sort of thing you want your head of state to be writing,” a minister said
Stephen, who was elected president in December 2007, described his term in office as an honour. “To resign was a commonsense decision based on the fact that while there were unwarranted and mischievous attacks being made against me by the opposition, the office of the president was being devalued.”.
SOURCE: THE AUSTRALIAN/PACNEWS
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