TEN RELEASED IN FIJI STANDOFF AT PARLIAMENT

By Erin Phelan

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 19, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---Late last night ten prisoners from the civil takeover in Parliament were released, after signing a document that tendered their resignation in Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's Labour Coalition.

Nine members of Parliament, and Chaudhry's personal bodyguard, were escorted out of Parliament in the early hours of Sunday morning. FM 96 reports this morning that the Prime Minister's son, Rajendra Chaudhry, who serves as his father's private secretary, has also signed the document that is reputed to have been drafted by George Speight.

Rajendra was seen inside the Parliament complex, appearing in good health except for a black patch covering his eye. There were unconfirmed reports that the Prime Minister's son had been bashed during the takeover.

Chaudhry's personal doctors arrived this morning to check the status of the Prime Minister's health, and he is reported to be feeling much better. Media reported last night that Chaudhry had collapsed and speculation is that this collapse was brought on by exhaustion. Chaudhry and his Indo-Fijian members of government have been held against their will since Friday morning.

Radio Fiji quoted a spokesperson from the self-proclaimed civilian government saying that Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry is willing to resign. He defended the actions of Speight and the armed men, saying that they had acted in good faith.

However, the President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara had earlier stressed that any decisions made under duress are not legally binding.

FM 96 reported that a shot was fired during the night by one of Speight's men. However, it was later reported that this was accidental.

Several hundred people gathered outside Parliament late last night, including camera crews from all over the world. A relaxed George Speight came out to speak to his pro-nationalistic supporters, who've been holding a vigil since the takeover began. Radio Fiji reported Speight shared a bowl of kava (yaqona) before going back inside Parliament House.

Chief mediator Sitiveni Rabuka is reported to be on his way to Parliament this morning to meet with Speight. Rabuka has played a key role since Friday in trying to bring about a peaceful end to the crisis, and has very important links with the army and police commanders.

Workers at the important Rarawai sugar mill in Ba, northwest of Suva, stopped work as the Fiji Trades Union Congress called for industrial action in support of the Chaudhry government. Chaudhry is a longtime trade unionist with his power base in Fiji's economically vital sugar belt. Radio Fiji One reported that all workers throughout the country, whether part of the Trade Union or not, have been encouraged to not go into work until such time as a peaceful resolution is brought about.

The army and police continue to maintain order on the streets of Suva, under the powers of the State of Emergency that was called Friday afternoon by the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

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