FIJI UNION LEADER ARRESTED, THEN RELEASED

By Joe Hildebrand

SYDNEY, Australia (June 16, 2000 - AAP)---A Fijian union leader arrested by the military government says he was manhandled before being released from custody today.

Fiji Trade Unions Congress general secretary Felix Anthony said he was manhandled and verbally abused when he was shuttled between military barracks for over three hours.

Mr. Anthony was on his way to meet striking sugarcane workers in the western half of the main island when he was arrested at 6:30 a.m. local time (0430 AEST).

"I was manhandled, put onto a truck and taken to the army camp and I was abused and sworn at," Mr. Anthony told AAP by telephone from Suva.

He was released after Lieutenant Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini intervened and arranged to meet him in the capital Suva later this afternoon.

Mr. Anthony's arrest came the day after Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer arrived in Suva with a Commonwealth delegation to press the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group's (CMAG's) call for a quick resolution to the crisis in Fiji.

The delegation will meet Fiji's military ruler Commander Frank Bainimarama today.

Many sugarcane farmers and workers are refusing to harvest the cane, in protest against the military regime and in support of democratically elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, who has been held hostage for four weeks.

Mr. Anthony said the military was intimidating and harassing workers, farmers and unionists in an attempt to force their support.

"They have been threatening workers, threatening farmers, threatening that if they don't work they'll be bashed up, they'll be taken away, all sorts of things like that," he said.

He also said he did not know why he had been arrested and denied claims by the military that he had contravened a decree which forbids public gatherings during martial law.

"I don't know what their concerns were, I don't know why I was detained," he said.

Mr. Anthony said the military had used the coup by rebel leader George Speight as an excuse to exercise more power and had no intention of restoring democracy to Fiji.

"It appears that way to us now more and more, that they are trying to exercise more power," he said.

"If they want to return to democracy I don't see any justification in their behavior."

Mr. Anthony said there were several signs that the military regime was attempting to establish complete and long-term control of the country.

"The very fact that they decided to abrogate the constitution, the fact that they decided to appoint an interim government, indicates that they intend much more than simply maintaining the law and order situation," he said.

"It is obvious that they are bowing to pressure (from George Speight) but I don't see why they have to harass and intimidate honest law-abiding citizens of this country."

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