MORE FIJI HOSTAGES SEIZED

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 8, 2000 – BBC News)---About 100 rebels claiming to be acting on behalf of Fijian rebel leader George Speight have seized control of the police station in a town outside Suva.

The nationalist rebels, who are demanding increased power for indigenous Fijians and a reduced role for ethnic Indians, have taken up to 30 new hostages at Korovou.

Rebels are already holding 27 captives including Fiji's first ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and former members of his cabinet.

Rebel spokesman Iferemi Tiko, who told reporters he was a cousin of George Speight, said he wanted the military head of state Commodore Frank Bainimarama to resign.

"We will hold on here until he steps down, this takeover is from the people," said Mr. Tiko, his face covered by a ski helmet and sunglasses.

The hostages at the police station include local soldiers, police and government officials.

Nobody has been reported injured but Mr. Tiko said he had asked George Speight for "military advice" before taking the hostages.

The rebels set up a roadblock outside the town made up of a refrigerator, engine parts, a wheelbarrow and two trucks.

Rebels have also closed the main road between Fijian capital Suva and Nadi, where the country's international airport is located.

The army could not immediately be reached for comment but appealed for calm on national radio.

Days of civil unrest across Fiji - including local landowners shutting down the largest island's main hydroelectric power station - have shown the depth of support for the rebels and prompted the military to restart stalled peace talks.

A deadline for the rebels to release deposed Mr. Chaudhry and most of his cabinet, which was extended by 24 hours, has expired.

The military had given the rebels until midnight on Saturday local time to leave the parliament compound and free the 27 hostages they had held there for seven weeks.

The army had warned it would seal off the area and anyone left inside after the deadline would be charged once the crisis was over.

Rebel leader George Speight countered that if the exclusion zone was imposed, his supporters elsewhere in the country would attack key installations.

He also said the hostages could be harmed if the military denied rebel supporters access to the compound or cut off the utilities.

"It appears that the military has grossly underestimated our support and they have, in their own stupidity, decided to call our bluff," rebel spokesman Jo Nata said on Thursday.

Mr. Speight's men stormed the parliament building on May 19 demanding that ethnic Indians, who make up 44% of the population, be stripped of political power.

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