The Pacific island nation of Kiribati is moving towards authoritarianism, its former president says in an interview, after the government suspended all judges from its appeal and high courts.
Kiribati withdrew from the regional bloc, the Pacific Island Forum, in July, with China denying it had influenced the decision by the tiny atoll nation amid tensions between Beijing and Washington over the Pacific region.
Kiribati switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, and struck economic and infrastructure deals when China's foreign minister visited in May.
The Kiribati government suspended three judges sitting on its court of appeal this week, after they ruled against the government's attempt to deport an Australia-born high court judge who is married to the leader of the opposition party.
Former president Anote Tong said the situation was "unprecedented" for Kiribati, which he said had been one of the most stable governments in the region.
"Kiribati is going through quite a serious constitutional crisis. Not to accept the decision of the court would suggest that we may be moving towards a certain state of authoritarianism," Tong said in an interview in Sydney.
Kiribati's government did not respond to a request for comment.
Pacific island leaders, including Kiribati's, have been invited to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington on September 28-29, the latest effort by Washington to step up ties with the region increasingly courted by China.