POLICEMAN DIES, ARMED ATTACK ON TV STATION

OUSTED MINISTER CHAND 'DEEPLY CONCERNED' OVER FIJI CRISIS 

By Salesh Kumar © USP Journalism Programme

FIJI UPDATES: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/  

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 29, 2000 – USP Journalism Online/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Date: The Education Minister in the ousted Chaudhry government, Pratap Chand, today expressed deep concern on the hostage crisis in Fiji.   Chand told Pacific Journalism Online: "The situation is unpredictable but we are just doing our best." 

He added that the crisis was getting out of hand.  He and his colleagues are only hoping that the hostages will be released immediately. 

Chand said: "Once the hostages are freed, then we will decide on steps to solve the grievances." 

Chand protested in a letter to the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, yesterday over the invoking of sections 106 and 99 of the 1997 constitution to effectively sack the elected Labour Party-led government. 

"We are deeply concerned about this proposal since the ultimate effect of it is to legitimize the overthrow of a constitutional and democratically elected government by terrorists," the letter said. 

He declined to comment on the actions of Ratu Tevita Momoedonu (Labour Minister in the Chaudhry government) in accepting the acting prime ministership on the request of the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, which enabled the dismissal of the elected government. 

But he said: "[Ratu Tevita] didn't understand the legal implications of his actions." 

Elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and at least 30 of his cabinet members and MPs have been held hostage by gunmen in Parliament for the past 10 days. 

 

Staff Reporters USP Journalism Programme Fiji Updates: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/ 

SUVA, Fiji Islands (May 29, 2000 - USP Journalism Online/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---A policeman wounded during a terror raid into the central business area of Fiji's capital, Suva, died early today as lawlessness mounted, according to local radio reports.

The 49-year-old constable was rushed to hospital last night after being shot in unclear circumstances near Parliament as gunmen and a mob of rebel leader George Speight's supporters left on an assault against the country's only television station.

A security guard also died outside the Suva post office, reportedly from a heart attack.

However, Radio Fiji quoted police spokesperson Inspector Sera Bernhard as saying that a post mortem had yet to be carried out to find the cause of death of the guard.

She said the dead constable, from the dog patrol unit, had been shot in his car when turning from Ratu Sukuna Road into Domain Road, near the Parliament complex.

He died at 12:44 this morning, about four hours after he had been wounded.

The Daily Post said today that about 200 men armed with stones and guns marched into the downtown area past the Government Buildings.

"Singing Fijian songs and chanting war cries, the group terrorized staff at Fiji Television, stoning their building and breaking the show glass," said the Post.

The television signals were cut during a legal drama series, "The Practice," and equipment was damaged.

But Fiji Television chief executive Ken Clark said his staff members were all safe.

The station was reportedly targeted over the broadcast of a panel program, "Close-Up," which featured media coverage of the hostage crisis.

Chaired by Fiji Television reporter Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the panelists, political commentator Jone Dakuvula and Communications Fiji Ltd managing director William Parkinson, were critical of the rebels and their illegal regime.

The rebels still hold hostage elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and more than 30 members of his government.

However, the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, on Saturday used a constitutional technicality to sack Chaudhry and his ministers in a bid for them to be set free.

60 Minutes presenter Tukaha Mua was reportedly chased by the protesters to Suva's Centra Hotel. A senior police officer also was reported to have run for cover at the hotel.

An unnamed journalist said on Radio Fiji today that some of the rebels had then driven to the hotel and fired shots in the air and threatened staff.

Rebel spokesman Ratu Timoci Silatolu blamed alleged "bias" of the media for the violence.

Speaking on Radio Fiji, he said their followers were "disappointed" about the reporting and "now they are taking it upon themselves to right things and they shouldn't be blamed for that."

 

The Daily Post said: "Army sources said last night the leaders of the hostage takers have lost control of some of their gunmen."

In other violence over the weekend, a taxi driver was murdered inside his home but it was not clear whether the killing was related to the political crisis. Police reported sporadic looting and threats against both Indo-Fijians and Fijians by Speight supporters.

Ratu Tevita Momoedonu today defended his role in the sacking of the Chaudhry cabinet after other Labour MPs and senators condemned him for the lack of consultation.

He told Radio Fiji the situation was so critical that there was no time for lengthy consultation.

"I had the moral obligation to do what I did," he said.

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