SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 23, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Fiji's President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, has called on the hostage takers inside the country's Parliament to release the hostages and give themselves up.

Ratu Mara also says he expects the full support of the Great Council of Chiefs when it meets tomorrow:

This report from Radio Australia correspondent Kevin McQuillan in Suva:

"At a media briefing at Government House, President Ratu Mara, said he was concerned at reports the coup leader, George Speight, had been taken around Suva in a police vehicle overnight. It was, he said, a matter he was looking into and said security around the complex would be tightened.

"He again called on the kidnappers to release their hostages: ‘It is a great pity that Mr. Speight and his crew continue to be unwilling to listen to their view of the overwhelming majority of Fiji. The first step must be the release of all of those that are unfortunately kept as hostages. The concerns of the Fijian community will then be fully addressed but there will be no dialogue or negotiation under duress in any form.’

"Meanwhile, Ratu Mara says he can't guarantee that he will re-appoint Prime Minister Chaudhry to the job once an ongoing political crisis is resolved.

"Ratu Mara says he has an unspecified set of proposals to put to tomorrow's special meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs.

"Kevin McQuillan, Radio Australia, Suva."



SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 22, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Earlier, Fiji's Police Commissioner, Isikea Savua, warned the leader of the gunmen, George Speight, he would be arrested if he stepped outside the parliamentary complex in Suva.

The Police Commissioner says leaving the complex is a breach of an agreement to stay inside the grounds:

"If he comes out we will do all or the best we can to have him arrested, yes."

Meanwhile, journalists inside the complex report that armed gunmen have put a gun to the head of Prime Minister Chaudhry.

The incident occurred when Mr. Chaudhry was being escorted in the grounds and the guards thought they were being attacked.

They threw the Prime Minister to the ground, putting a gun to his head.



SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 22, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Australia says the hostage crisis is doing enormous damage to Fiji's international standing and economy.

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says the leader of the gunmen, George Speight, must respect Fiji's constitution by releasing the Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry:

He said, "The simple fact is that what Mr. Speight is doing is doing Fiji as a whole enormous damage. He's damaging its standing in the international community. It'll damage the economic prospects of all Fijians. The sooner he understands that he has a responsibility to the whole of Fiji, not just to himself, and he releases the hostages the better."

Mr. Downer has told the U.S. Cable News Network, CNN, he's offered Fiji's President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, all practical help from Australia in ending the four-day siege.

He says that Ratu Mara believes there's no need for Australia to get directly involved.



Suva, Fiji Islands (May 22, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Fiji's High Commissioner to Australia, Isoa Gavidi, says he may stand down in protest if Fiji's Council of Chiefs supports Mr. Speight.

The Council is due to meet tomorrow to discuss their response to Mr. Speight's actions.

Mr. Gavidi says he's unsure how many chiefs support Mr. Speight, but if a majority stands by him, he'll consider standing down:

He said, "It will depend on the government that comes into power whether they want me to remain and in the end it will be a personal decision on my part. I think I'll make the decision when it comes but really in the end it is a personal decision that one has to make. I'll consider, but I think like I said earlier, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."



Suva, Fiji Islands (May 22, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Fiji's Reserve Bank has announced a number of policy measures to protect foreign exchange reserves during the current political crisis.

The Bank says it is tightening capital controls across a variety of transactions as local businesses scrambled to transfer large amount of funds into foreign bank accounts.

A statement by the Reserve Bank says transaction limits have been reduced in several categories and documentary requirements have been increased.

The Bank also says it has imposed a credit ceiling on individual banks.



SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 22, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Fiji's Deputy Prime Minister, Adi Kuini Speed, says the coup attempt by George Speight will ultimately fail because he does not have the backing of the military.

She says the attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's government is motivated by jealousy.

Adi Kuini, who is in Canberra receiving treatment for cancer, believes Mr. Speight is also unlikely to receive the support of the Great Council of Chiefs, when it meets tomorrow to discuss the situation:

She said, "I am absolutely confident that George Speight's attempt at this illegal takeover will not succeed, because he doesn't have the military to back him up and even with the Fijians who marched. They are no longer there; they have dispersed. And I heard that they all had to walk back, hundreds of miles to their villages because they couldn't get an Indian bus or taxi because they are all driven or owned by Indo-Fijians.



SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 22, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Shopkeepers in Suva have begun erecting barricades as reports emerge there'll be another march through the capital by Fiji's radical Taukei movement.

The Fiji nationalists are due to begin their march later today sparking fears of more looting following last Friday's riots in central Suva.

Some elements of the Taukei movement have declared their support for coup leader George Speight, whose armed group stormed Parliament on Friday.

They're still holding 12 hostages, including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, in Parliament.

Meanwhile, Mr. Speight says he hopes talks planned for tomorrow with Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs will provide a clearer picture of the country's future.

He has refused an offer of amnesty from the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, but says he is also still negotiating with him.

Mara said, "It is a matter of ongoing dialogue between the parties and hopefully over the next couple of days I will be able to make announcements which are mutually agreed to by both sides and that will clarify all of the events up until this time."

Radio Australia's correspondent in Suva, Kevin McQuillan, says Mr. Speight made an early morning tour of the capital in a police car.

An armed accomplice accompanied him on his drive, which he said he made to inspect damage caused in the looting and arson in the business center on Friday.

The Indian-led trades union movement has called a general strike today to protest the attempted coup.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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