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By Andrew Casey

SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 28, 2000)---A national union led protest, which should shut down all of Fiji, will go ahead next Wednesday despite the latest turmoil in that country, Fiji TUC General Secretary, Felix Anthony said today.

The trade union movement in Fiji has organized a nationwide protest to demonstrate their deep concern about the current crisis.

"We have got agreement from all civic groups to back the national closure of the country under the broad theme that this is a Day for Peace and Democracy," Felix Anthony said.

"I hope that unions in Australia, New Zealand, and around the world, can creatively use Wednesday as a day to demonstrate their support and solidarity with the workers of my country," Mr. Anthony said.

The civic groups are campaigning for the restoration of the Constitution and a restoration of Law and Order.

Key private sector employers have decided to support the union demonstrations.

The demonstrations are also being backed by about a dozen civic groups including the powerful Methodist Church. The Citizens Constitutional Forum and important women's and social welfare organizations.

The decision to go ahead with the nationwide protests was confirmed this afternoon by Felix Anthony after meetings in the national capital Suva.

Tension is very high in Fiji- especially in Suva - following the arrest of most of the leaders of the terrorist gang who forced out the Labour-led democratically elected government of Fiji.

"The capital is very quiet. The town seems almost deserted as people are holding their breath fearful of what might happen now that the Speight group have been arrested by the military," Mr. Anthony said after the meeting of the civic groups.

The Fiji military are now holding more than 300 people associated with the George Speight gang after beginning arrests late on Wednesday night.

The Interim Finance Minister Ratu Jone Kubuabola released a mini-budget today in which he projected a negative economic growth of 15 percent this year.

Throughout today there have been reports of pro-Speight uprisings and hostage taking - with rumors of a march by Speight supporters.

During the day, in Labasa, the main city on the second largest island of Fiji - the rebels had taken hold of the army barracks and for a short while rounded up Indo-Fijians and detained them in the camp.

While the Western half of the main island of Fiji still seems to be peaceful most of the capital shut down today because of fears of violence and terror.

Despite the danger civic groups met in Suva today to confirm they are committed to next Monday’s democracy protests campaigning for the return of law and order based on the 1997 Constitution.

A plan for a march has now been shelved because of the current political tensions. But workers and employers have been asked to stay at home for the day and show their solidarity at a local level with the aims of the civic groups.

Fiji Chamber of Commerce president Joe Singh told Fiji media that the national protest will close down all activities including the shutting down of all business, schools, governments and statutory offices.

The Chamber of Commerce is working with the TUC to try to come to an agreement about what further ‘smart’ sanctions could be supported, which particularly targeted the terrorist group leader George Speight and his supporters - rather than the broader community.

"We want to work together to find ways we can target with smart sanctions the business houses and the personalities who have conspicuously supported the terrorists and worked to undermine Fiji’s constitution and democratic institutions," Mr. Anthony of the TUC said.

Mr. Singh of the Chamber of Commerce said these actions are necessary and vitally important. Mr. Singh said he wanted to prevent the re-imposition of general trade bans that the TUC and its overseas union counterparts had threatened to re-introduce.

"I need not stress the very serious consequences both commercial and social that will arise for the people of Fiji should general trade union bans be re-introduced," Mr. Singh told local media.

A joint agreement by the TUC and the private sector leadership was reached on Wednesday with the following proposals:

· A meeting to be held with the President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo to outline and emphasize the need to deal with the current crisis within the framework of the 1997 constitution;

· Express to Ratu Iloilo the very deep concern of the total breakdown of law and order and the lack of ability and will, determination and commitment in the maintenance of law and order by the police and military authorities.

· Further express the concern of the apparent breakdown of the functions of the judicial system particularly by the discharge of an insurgent on grounds of alleged amnesty.

The signatories of the agreement are still waiting to meet with Ratu Iloilo to discuss these issues.


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