FIJI GREAT COUNCIL OF CHIEFS MEETING STILL IN PROGRESS

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By Erin Phelan

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 23, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---The emergency meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs is still in progress, as the day in Suva draws to a close. If no resolution is made today, the meeting is expected to continue tomorrow.

Radio stations reported that Fijian protocol is being closely followed in the meeting. Local and international journalists are gathered outside waiting for an announcement.

Meanwhile, inside the parliamentary complex, hundreds of supporters of George Speight, leader of the civilian takeover, have gathered, some drinking yaqona (kava) and others preparing food. The curfew throughout the country has been reduced and now extends from 8:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m.

Yesterday, foreign diplomats and international bodies -- such as the United Nations and Forum Secretariat -- were briefed by the permanent secretary for the Department of Foreign Affairs and the police. They were told that Fiji is still under rightful law, brought down by the State of Emergency called by President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. They were advised that under the Geneva Convention Fiji is still responsible for foreign visitors and residents' safety, and the police will continue to exercise their duties.

The EU/ACP meeting was not on the agenda.

 

FIJI’S GREAT COUNCIL OF CHIEFS MEETING, LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

By Erin Phelan

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 23, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---A special meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs is under way, as Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and Members of Parliament enter their fifth day in captivity.

Much is riding on the outcome of the meeting, and there is speculation as to whether the GCC will ask the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, to resign.

In his address to the nation yesterday Ratu Mara reiterated that he is still in charge and that he will not enter into dialogue with attempted coup leader George Speight until his men lay down their arms and the hostages are freed.

Ratu Mara said he is confident of majority support of the Great Council of Chiefs. However, Speight also claims he has the backing of many chiefs, and Sitiveni Rabuka, Chairman of the GCC, has said he is fearful of a split. Speight is reported to have sent a written statement to be presented to the GCC.

According to a report in the Fiji Times, Ratu Mara said he would present a proposal to the GCC that enhances the position of the indigenous Fijian community.

In a statement to the press, Opposition MP Jim Ah Koy said that though he believed the takeover by Speight and his armed group was unconstitutional and therefore illegal, he understood the motives:

"I can understand fully their frustrations and anger against the Chaudhry Government and the person of the Prime Minister for his arrogance and obduracy in not listening to the sensitivities of the indigenous Fijians," Ah Koy said.

Ah Koy confirmed that he and the Speight family are very close, and that George had been "like a son to me." But Ah Koy categorically stated he was in no way involved in the civil takeover, and was completely caught by surprise by Speight's actions.

Ah Koy also said that he believed the country would not have lasting stability until indigenous Fijians felt their rights and interests were protected and they were at the helm of governmental leadership.

Local journalists who were positioned inside the parliamentary complex reported last night that things were calm. They said no one had actually witnessed an event reported by international media, that Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry had been pulled onto the lawn of Parliament House with a gun pointed at his head.

Permanent secretaries from the People's Coalition met all day yesterday, to provide updates on how each ministry is handling the situation. Despite a lack of public transport, 60 percent of civil servants were at work yesterday and government is hopeful that things will be back to normal in the government today. The permanent secretaries reiterated their support for the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

A special meeting of foreign diplomats also took place yesterday, and one topic of conversation was the upcoming EU/ACP signing of the successor agreement to the Lomé Convention, that was scheduled to take place in Suva June 8th. The EU has said it continues to monitor the situation closely, but that one key point of membership in the EU/ACP is respect for democracy and good governance.

Media had reported that a special envoy of the New Zealand military had arrived in Fiji and was presumed to be on alert to assist the army or police. However, the New Zealand High Commission confirmed in a press statement that a contingent of 102 personnel is in Fiji, but are here for "jungle training."

The group is made up of Officer Cadets and a small group of Royal New Zealand Airforce signalers, who arrived in Fiji May 17th, two days before the takeover, and will return to New Zealand May 28th. The group of students is from New Zealand, Fiji, Singapore, Australia and Papua New Guinea. The training takes place annually, providing the students with experience in tropical conditions. The High Commission said that this activity was routine practice and had been months in the planning. They stressed that the soldiers were not in any way involved in the present situation.

Buses have resumed their operations and the Fiji Trades Union Congress called off their nationwide strike. Many businesses in downtown Suva are reopening as life in the capital city slowly returns to normal. Grocery stores in the downtown area remained closed yesterday, and those in the outlying regions closed early due to the mass numbers of people stocking up. All grocery stores are open today.

According to sources close to PINA Nius Online, George Speight's proclaimed Minister of Finance, Navitalai Naisoro, former permanent secretary for Finance, arrived at the Ministry yesterday to take up his "new" post, and was told by police to leave the premises. He was also told that if he returned, he would be arrested.

Overnight two houses in Nausori, on the outskirts of Suva, burned to the ground. Radio Fiji reported that an Indian family witnessed a group of youths dousing kerosene on their house before setting it ablaze.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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