DISSIDENT GUNMEN CLAIM CONTROL OF FIJI GOVERNMENT

RATU MARA VOWS TO RESTORE CONSTITUTIONAL RULE PEACEFULLY 

By Losana McGowan USP Journalism Student 

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 20, 2000 – Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Fiji's President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, today vowed to restore constitutional rule peacefully and said yesterday's kidnapping of the elected government would be remembered as a day of shame. 

"I wish to declare to the nation that I will use the authority and resources at my command to bring about a just and peaceful solution to a sad chapter in our history," he said. 

He said the government would go to great lengths to avoid a violent confrontation with attackers who had "terrorized our nation and threatened the lives of the government." 

Ratu Mara said he would not bow to threats and coercion. 

"The perpetrators should not underestimate my unshakeable determination to maintain integrity and stability of the state and protect the rights and interests of the people of Fiji." 

Earlier today, Fiji Television broadcast pictures of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Tupeni Baba, for the first time since they had been seized hostage in Parliament yesterday morning. 

The TV report said Mr. Chaudhry and Dr. Baba were accompanied by George Speight, the leader of the armed gang, to make a short statement to a group of journalists in the Parliament complex. 

Mr. Speight was reported to have given Dr. Baba a written statement to read after a short argument about where the statement should be made. 

Dr. Baba spoke about reports that President Ratu Mara had asked the army to intervene in the hostage crisis. 

He read from the statement and called on the army not to intervene because of the "consequences." 

According to PACNEWS, Dr Baba clarified the situation before the statement, which he and Mr. Chaudhry allegedly wrote, by saying they were "not legitimizing anything." 

Mr. Chaudhry was reportedly shouting: "We are not legitimizing anything, O.K. at this point," as he was being led away with Dr. Baba by the hostage takers after the short statement. 

Mr. Speight, who was reportedly disturbed by the comments, was heard calling for "security, security, security" to take the hostages away. 

Mr. Chaudhry was reportedly told to "shut up" by one of the hostage takers when he was heard saying, "Thank you very much." 

In a press report, Mr. Speight said they understand that the President has asked the army to intervene. 

"This scenario would mean that if shooting will take place, you must expect the worse." 

The Western Division remained peaceful until this afternoon, but Radio Fiji reported that several fires have gutted buildings in Rakiraki. 

A police officer in Rakiraki told Radio Fiji that the New World Supermarket and Courts Fiji outlet were on fire. 

The officer said youths have been stoning buildings, including the police station. 

A Rakiraki resident told Radio Fiji that Rakiraki residents had no idea how the fire started. 

RABUKA: ARMED FORCES LOYAL TO MARA 

See updates and pictures: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/  

By Joe Yaya USP Journalism Student 

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 20, 2000 – Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Former coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka today declared that the dissident gunmen holding Fiji's elected government hostage were acting illegally and that he supported the constitutional government. 

"I cannot be seen as a breaker of the constitution I put in place," he told reporters. 

Mr. Rabuka, Prime Minister of Fiji before being defeated in last year's general election, has emerged as the key mediator in trying to break the deadlock while the kidnapped government and MPs remain detained in Parliament. 

The Fiji police and military forces also reaffirmed at a joint media conference today that they supported the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, and said they would not take any orders from anybody else. 

Police Commissioner Isikia Savua said the President was the sole legal authority in Fiji. 

"It is to the President of Fiji that the police owe allegiance and take directives from now," he said. 

"Fiji police will not accept any other instruction other than that of His Excellency, Ratu Sir Kamisese." 

The acting commander of the military forces, Colonel Alfred Tuatoka, also confirmed that the president remained commander-in-chief and the army was bound by the 1997 constitution. 

Mr. Rabuka had earlier asked self-styled head of state George Speight and the dissident civilian group which stormed Parliament yesterday to free the hostages, but they refused to do so. 

He also said on national radio that, as Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, he had called a meeting for Tuesday to inform the chiefs of the situation and get a response from them. 

"There are provisions and avenues that we can follow to reach an agreement, but George Speight and his group will have to agree that the President is the supreme rule in the country," said Mr. Rabuka. 

"We cannot have two regimes in control. 

"One will have to be dismantled," he said. 

"I believe I am still Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, Ratu Mara is still the President and the constitution is still in place," he added. 

Meanwhile, the chiefs from the Ba confederacy, including the chiefs of Sabeto and Nadi, have condemned the actions of the dissident group, and pledged their support for Ratu Mara. 

Watch for updates and pictures today: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/

By David Robie USP Journalism Programme

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 20, 2000 – Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Civilian gunmen leader George Speight today defied mounting international condemnation of the kidnapping of Fiji's elected Cabinet, claiming that his regime was now the legal government of the Pacific nation.

His self-styled interim government named a list of "advisers" last night but at least three of them denied any involvement on national radio and condemned the attempted coup.

Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, the country's first Indo-Fijian prime minister whose Fiji Labour Party was swept to a landslide victory in last year's general election, his Cabinet, and MPs have been detained under armed guard in Parliament since yesterday morning.

While the police and military forces appeared loyal to constitutional authority, Speight, a shaved-head timber industry businessman and undischarged bankrupt, claimed that indigenous Fijians supported the illegal regime.

He said that only the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, and negotiator Sitiveni Rabuka, who led the two 1987 military coups and was ousted as prime minister by the Chaudhry coalition government, were not in support.

President Mara declared a state of emergency last night and the armed forces called up all reservists in the greater Suva area.

Speight claimed at a press conference that the 1997 constitution had been revoked: "There is now no longer the office of the president."

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon joined the Australian, New Zealand and United States governments in condemning the attempted coup and calling on the kidnappers to abandon their action.

McKinnon warned on BBC Television that Fiji could face the fate of Pakistan in being excluded from the Commonwealth if the coup succeeded.

He said there was total Commonwealth support for constitutional rule, adding: "The police and army must stay on side with the elected government.

On Radio Fiji this morning, McKinnon added that he was "sad and angry" over the attempt to overthrow the elected government.

"I am very concerned and very saddened by this," he said. "But I am also very angry because this was not necessary and it will set Fiji back a long way. This will not help Fiji's international reputation at all."

McKinnon said that he been in touch with Mara and said the Commonwealth supported the president's attempts to reassert constitutional government.

The Fiji Citizens' Constitutional Forum (CCF), a community-based group which played a key role in the establishment of the multiracial 1997 constitution, strongly condemned the kidnapping of the government and the looting and violence.

"We call especially on our international partners who have contributed to the long process of democratization in Fiji which culminated in our 1997 Constitution -- governments, churches, NGOs and committed individuals -- to join us in this chorus of condemnation against this 'civil coup'," said executive director Rev Akuila Yabaki.

"The group of seven armed men who have carried out these acts of violence are made up of unpopular politicians and discredited businessmen. Anyone who thinks that the ethnic Fijian community can benefit from this coup is living in a fool's paradise.

"The majority of Fiji's citizens voted overwhelming in support for constitutional democracy in the last election in May 1997 -- including a majority of ethnic Fijians. This violence is not about protecting Fijian rights. It is about the interests of a few at all of our expense.

"The leaders of this so-called coup have no legitimacy and do not represent the breadth of Fijian support for constitutional democracy."

"We support the constitutional authority of [President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara] who is Fiji's Head of State. The President has correctly declared a state of emergency and is exercising executive authority. We owe a debt of gratitude to Fiji's law enforcement officials and our armed forces for the difficult service they are performing in seeking to uphold the rule of law."

About 48 percent of the country's 800,000 population are indigenous Fijians; 46 percent are Indo-Fijians, and the rest are mixed-race or ethnic minorities.

The Fiji Times, the only one of the country's three daily newspapers to publish today, declared in an editorial that "the madness must end."

"It is wrong and dishonorable to back protests with guns and violence. Threatening people's lives and putting their safety at risk is inexcusable," the paper said.

"We have again witnessed how one moment of madness will set this country back by decades. Everything we have worked hard to put right and goals we have set for the nation have been ruined."

Police declared the central city zone of the capital Suva a "no go" zone and said they were treating the entire central business district as a crime scene after scores of looters smashed their way into stores and set one shopping block, adjoining a newspaper office, ablaze yesterday afternoon.

An unnamed police office told Radio Fiji that 160 shops had been looted.

Police barricades were thrown up on the main roads into the city.

The attempted coup leader George Speight was reportedly director of the Wattle Group, an Australian investment company, which siphoned millions of dollars from the Australian police, Fiji citizens and life savings.

Speight, son of the Opposition MP Savenaca Tokainavo, pleaded not guilty to exchange rate charges and extortion in the High Court in Suva last Monday.

He is a descendant of a fourth generation white colonist and is reputed to not be a fluent Fijian speaker.

Speight was installed by former Finance Minister Jim Ah Koy (in the Rabuka government) as head of the Fiji Hardwood Corporation, a multimillion-dollar company which was been at the center of controversy in recent months.

He said he had no apologies for what is seen is a racist, pro-Fijian stance.

"We are not going to apologies to anybody and we are not going to step back, and we are not going to be daunted by accusations of racism, or one-sidedness," Speight said.

"At the end of the day, it is [about] the supreme rights of our indigenous people in Fiji, the desire is that it be returned – wholesome and preserved for the future."

Title -- 2729 POLITICS: Dissident gunmen claim control of Fiji government Date -- 20 May 2000 Byline -- David Robie Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- USP Journalism Programme, 20/5/00 Copyright -- USP Journalism Programme Status -- Unabridged

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