COUP LEADER WARNS AGAINST REPRISALS

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 20, 2000 – Radio Australia)---The leader of the civilian coup in Fiji has warned Australia, New Zealand and America, not to take reprisals against his self proclaimed government.

Radio Australia Pacific correspondent Kevin McQuillan reports from Fiji that the lawful government of Mahendra Chaudhry remains locked up inside Parliament in Suva.

"Coup leader George Speight has now declared himself Interim President of Fiji and says he has dissolved Parliament, the constitution and the Great Council of Chiefs.

"He claims the chair of the Great Council, former coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka, has now accepted the role of liaison between himself and the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

"Mr. Speight has also warned Australia, New Zealand and America not to intervene or take reprisals for his actions, which he says have the support of half his country's population.

"Inside Parliament, the Cabinet -- including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry -- remains locked up. Mr. Speight says they will be held indefinitely.

"Meanwhile the acting leader of the Chaudhry government has welcomed the declaration of the state of emergency by President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. He has called on the self-styled coup leader to release the hostages.

"Calm has now returned to downtown Suva, although the city is a mess after a day of looting, the smashing of windows and fires.

DOWNER EXPECTS FIJI COUP ATTEMPT TO FAIL

CANBERRA, Australia (May 20, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says the odds are that the coup attempt will fail.

He says Fiji's military and police are supporting the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, in maintaining the constitution.

Mr. Downer warned that Fiji's economy will crash if the coup succeeds.

"It would be a disaster for Fiji's standing in the international community. And it would be a disaster for Fiji's economy.

"Secondly, I think, under the Harare declaration of the Commonwealth, it would be highly likely that Fiji's membership of the Commonwealth would be suspended as has been the case recently with Pakistan," Mr. Downer said.

AMNESTY DEMANDS FIJI HOSTAGE RELEASE

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 19, 1999 – May 20, 2000)---The human rights group Amnesty International has demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the Fiji hostages.

It has also appealed to the commanders of the security forces not to allow a repeat of the human rights violations associated with the 1987 military coups.

Amnesty's spokesman in Fiji, Dr. Heinz Schurmann-Zeggel, said there are some aspects of today's coup which have worrying similarities to the 1987 takeovers.

"Phone lines were cut quite soon, people were unable to call each other, people were unable to call overseas and overseas was unable to call in.

"What we found out afterwards was that many people were being arrested only because they were considered to be sympathizers of the elected government," Dr. Schurmann-Zeggel said.

PRESIDENT SAYS POLICE, ARMY WILL UPHOLD CONSTITUTION

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 19, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Fiji's President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara has declared a state of emergency, saying today's coup is not in accordance with the constitution and therefore is unlawful.

He said the emergency action and a night curfew have been imposed to maintain law and order.

Seven armed men took Fiji's Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and seven Cabinet ministers hostage inside Suva's Parliament and claimed executive power in the name of indigenous Fijians.

Radio Australia correspondent Graeme Dobell reports that Sir Kamisese Mara says police and the Army will uphold the constitution.

"Ratu Mara called on the armed group occupying Parliament to end the siege and release Prime Minister Chaudhry and his Cabinet.

"He said, ‘I would like to plead with those who have staged these unlawful activities to disband and to return to their homes. There are democratically recognized avenues for airing grievances in accordance with the law and the constitution’

"Fiji's President declared a state of emergency and reports from Suva say two battalions of soldiers have been deployed to help police restore order after a day of looting in the capital.

"The man leading armed group in Parliament, George Speight, has rejected the calls from Ratu Mara and the former Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, to end the coup attempt."

NEW ZEALAND CONDEMNS THE ARMED TAKEOVER OF FIJI PARLIAMENT

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (May 19, 2000 – Radio Australia)---The New Zealand government has condemned the actions of the armed group that took the Fijian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and members of the Cabinet hostage.

Foreign Minister Phil Goff said the use of armed force to attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government was unacceptable to New Zealand and other members and of the international community.

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised New Zealanders to defer all non-essential travel to Fiji "until the current political unrest dissipates."

AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT EXPRESSES SURPRISE AT FIJI HOSTAGE CRISIS

CANBERRA, Australia (May 19, 2000 – Radio Australia)---The Australian government says the hostage crisis in Fiji has come as a surprise.

Radio Australia correspondent Kellie Day reports that the Prime Minister, John Howard, has described the situation as horrific.

"The government says it had no warning of any threat to the Fijian government and at this stage Fijian authorities have not requested assistance from Australia.

Mr. Howard, who's in South Korea, says he is horrified his Fijian counterpart, who was democratically elected, has been taken hostage ‘and I hope it can be fully resolved without any loss of life or injury.’

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, says there are many Australians in Suva, but there are no immediate concerns for their safety. "At the moment we’re not concerned about their safety. You’re right; there are reports of looting taking place in Suva and some burning. The looting doesn’t appear to be directly related to the action in Parliament House.’

"Australians in Suva have been advised to remain indoors and to stay in touch with the Australian High Commission.

"Qantas and Ansett are monitoring events in Fiji, and have not yet cancelled any flights."

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