SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Pacific Islands Forum confirmed the selection of former Nauru President Baron Waqa as the 18-member bloc’s next top official at a meeting on Friday in the Cook Islands.

Current Nauru President David Adeang had abruptly left the annual leaders meeting a day earlier after objections were raised by at least one Pacific Islands leader over Waqa’s nomination. Adeang did not travel with the other leaders to the island of Aitutaki, where meetings resumed on Friday.

Waqa’s selection was backed by Micronesian nations, including Nauru. Other leaders had wanted to discuss the process by which he was selected.

Nauru has diplomatic ties with Taiwan and not China, and Waqa has previously clashed with Chinese diplomats.

Nauru’s government has not responded to requests for comment.

At a livestreamed press conference on Friday, Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka told reporters “we are not judges” on whether Waqa is a controversial figure.

“We received the nomination as part of bringing back Micronesia,” he said, referring to an agreement among the sub-regions of Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia for a process to rotate key roles within the bloc.

“I inherited a fractured Pacific forum. We mended the fracture,” he said.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna, who will step down when his term finishes next year, said at the press conference that the leaders meeting on Friday had “reaffirmed their position from February on the appointment of Baron Waqa as the next secretary general.”

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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