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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (July 28, 1999 – Daily Post/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---A central figure in the 1987 Fiji coups has defended the island nation's Indo-Fijian population as fully fledged Pacific Islanders.

Fiji Islands President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who was accused of masterminding the coup which deposed the mixed ethnic government of Dr. Timoci Bavadra, yesterday criticized an international Pacific Island conference held in Auckland for excluding Indo-Fijians.

Ratu Mara, the keynote speaker at Pacific Vision, a four-day conference, said that about 338,000 or 44 percent of Fiji's population were of Indian descent.

"This is a conference of the Pacific communities in New Zealand, yet the Pacific Vision literature I have read appears to have an omission," said Ratu Mara, who opened and closed his speech with the Hindi phrases namaste and bahut dhanyabaad.

"There is no reference that I could see to the Indians from Fiji."

About 16,000 Indo-Fijians live in New Zealand and "they too could have contributed to your deliberations, especially through their knowledge of business and family enterprise and philosophy of thrift and hard work.

"Fiji Indians are full citizens. They are officially designated as Fiji islanders and one, the Honorable Mahendra Chaudhry, is now Prime Minister.

"They may have a distinct and different appearance and characteristics and been late arrivals, but islanders they are."

In 1987, Ratu Mara's Alliance party was defeated by Dr. Bavadra's Labour-led coalition, which was in turn ousted in two military coups led by Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka.

Ratu Mara has always denied involvement in the planning and execution of the first coup.

In referring to the coup, Ratu Mara said that democracy "created tension between the traditional models of hierarchical governance and the notion of equality and majority rule.

"We were presented with the special challenge of forging a multiracial, multi-religious nation, while protecting our Fijian heritage," he said.

"That tension was one of the reasons for the military coups in the Fiji Islands in 1987."

The Pacific Vision conference, organized by the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, is designed to chart a new course for South Pacific people into the new millennium.

Ratu Mara said that this meant reversing and curing the numerous social ills afflicting Pacific people.

"I do not see the lost people of the South Seas, the defeated and the despairing, shrunken shadows of those who went before," he said.

"I observe the proud descendants of some of the most remarkable explorers and settlers who ever lived. We carry the cultural and historical inheritance of ocean navigators of peerless skill and their courageous kin who crossed vast distances before the tribes of Europe had ventured forth from their small part of the Earth."

Title -- 2251 POLITICS: Ratu Mara defends Indians Date -- 28 July 1999 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Daily Post/Agencies, 28/7/99 Copyright -- Daily Post/Agencies Status – Unabridged

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Please acknowledge Pasifik Nius: niusedita@pactok.net.au http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/nius/index.html

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