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June 23, 2017

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Nauru parliament dissolved before April 26 election

CANBERRA -- The tiny Pacific nation of Nauru will have elections next week after President Marcus Stephen declared a state of emergency and dissolved parliament in a bid to end a bitter row with the opposition.

"We can't stand by any longer while the opposition pursues its self-serving agenda of economic destruction, which is now starting to hurt every Nauruan," Stephen said in a statement, declaring elections would be held on April 26.

Nauru's parliament has been deadlocked for months with the 18 lawmakers evenly divided and arguing about the economic future of the nation of 9,000, which has a total area of just 21 square kilometres.

Stephen says the parliament's Speaker, opposition figure David Adeang, and his backers were frustrating important foreign investment projects and budget bills.

"They have made a mockery of parliamentary process and our constitution and they have sought to defy the ruling of the highest court in the land," Stephen said.

Nauru's citizens were once among the world's wealthiest thanks to abundant reserves of phosphate used in fertilizers. But its wealth has declined following poor investment decisions and its citizens now rely on foreign aid, fishing and horticulture.

Incomes from royalties and investments had all but disappeared by 2003 and remain low, with total debt worth US$939 million.

Stephen, a former Olympic weightlifter, was elected last December after former president Ludwig Scotty was ousted in a no-confidence motion.

But political turmoil has continued and last month a fresh row erupted after Adeang barred two members of the Cabinet because they held dual citizenship of Nauru and Australia.

The decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court, but Adeang accused the government of mounting a coup because police refused to eject the two ministers from the parliament.

Stephen said fresh elections would strengthen his position in parliament, with voters already frustrated and unsettled by riots last month that damaged the main police station.

"I believe the voters of Nauru will voice their disgust at the opposition's attempt to hold our democratic institutions to ransom," Stephen said.

Adeang and opposition lawmakers could not be reached for comment.

Successive Nauru governments have concentrated on restoring the country's tarnished international financial reputation, ensuring it was removed from the OECD blacklist of money laundering and tax haven countries in October 2005.

The country posted its third successive balanced budget in 2006-07.

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