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SUVA, Fiji Islands (August 1, 2000 – Fiji Sun/Fiji Times/Fiji’s Daily Post/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---A pastor, members of chiefly families, youths, 59 women and more than 300 men are among the 415 supporters of rebel leader George Speight who appeared in court yesterday or are expected to appear over the next few days, reports the Fiji Sun.

Two former attorneys general, Apaitia Seru and Kelemedi Bulewa, are among the lawyers representing the accused.

Government buildings, especially around the courthouse, were cordoned off from the public yesterday by tight police and military security as the first 40 supporters were brought from Nasese Police Academy.

Hundreds of family members gathered around the back of the courthouse to witness their sons, brothers and fathers being herded into the cellblock from buses.

Their names were being called out as they stepped out of the bus with whatever belongings they had in plastic bags, knapsacks and mattresses.

The men were put into groups of 10 or so as they were all charged with unlawful assembly with a view to disturbing the peace and causing instability if the new Cabinet line-up did not go their way.

They appeared before Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo and Magistrate Aminiasi Katonivualiku in the Suva Magistrates’ Courts.

All pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bail, the Fiji Sun said.

The bail depended on which magistrate they went to. In magistrate Temo’s courtroom, they were granted $50 bail while magistrate Katonivualiku granted $100 bail.

The bail terms included appearing at the nearest police station three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

All were released on bail yesterday except for one who was charged with unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

Defense lawyer Bulewa challenged the charges, stating that they should be discharged under the immunity decree, which covers any criminal offences that fell between May 19 and July 13.


The military said Speight and nine other rebels held on Nukulau Island, off Suva, were not likely to be released this week, according to the Fiji Times.

Police were still investigating and until inquiries were incomplete it was not known what charges the rebels would face.

Nationalist rebel Iliesa Duvuloco is on the run from the military since the arrest of Speight and his men last week, the Fiji Times reports.

Duvuloco, a staunch supporter of Speight during the takeover of Parliament, has been missing from his Suva home and the military have issued mug shots of him at checkpoints.

The Sukunaivalu Barracks in Labasa is back in military hands for the first time since rebels seized control earlier this month, the Daily Post reports.

The rebels, led by a former assistant information minister in the Sitiveni Rabuka government, Ratu Josefa Dimuri, had taken over the barracks in support of Speight.

Some 14 Indo-Fijian families living in Dreketi, the rice bed of Fiji on the second main island of Vanua Levu, have been held captive by rebels, according to the Daily Post.

The newspaper reported that the rebels were holding about 150 people hostage.

A former resident was quoted as saying that Indo-Fijian homes were looted and people had been physically abused by the rebels.

"Some of the families have lost their vehicles at gunpoint to the rebels. They have taken guns that some farmers owned. Some of us have nothing much left to eat as all our vegetables were stolen and farms damaged," he told the paper.

Title -- 2879 FIJI: Former attorney-generals defend accused rebels Date -- 1 August 2000 Byline – None Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- PN, Fiji Sun, Daily Post, Fiji Times 1/8/00 Copyright -- PN/FS/DP/FT Status -- Unabridged

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ABC Australia Report July 31, 2000

In Fiji some 150-supporters of jailed rebel leader George Speight faced court today, charged with unlawful assembly.

All have been released on bail and ordered to reappear later next month.

Speight and some 350 of his henchmen were arrested last week in a military crackdown, just hours before an interim government was sworn-in.

But deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry says as far he's concerned he's still the rightful leader of Fiji.

Mr. Chaudhry, who's in Sydney receiving medical treatment, has held his first post-crisis talks with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

He spoke to the international media in Sydney, and Jemima Garrett was there for Asia Pacific.

Mr. Chaudhry and Mr. Howard come from widely different political traditions. Today the conservative Mr. Howard and Mr. Chaudhry, a staunch unionist and leader of the Fiji Labor Party, had much in common.

Mr. Howard said he was appalled at the brutal way in which Mr. Chaudhry and his government had been removed from office. The coup remains, Mr. Howard said, a black mark on Fiji's international reputation. The two men agreed that restoring law and order in Fiji is the most urgently important challenge and Mr. Chaudhry told journalists he had not given up on the future of democracy in his country.

MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: Well we are continuing with our struggle. We have been threatened that if we continue with our claim to be the legitimate government of Fiji then we'll be dealt with in accordance with law. Of course, the government that has been put in place is unconstitutional; it's illegal. We have to just continue with this struggle. Things will be dangerous; we do risk our own safety; personal safety and our lives, I know, and because this time around there are a lot of guns out there in the country so it adds a new dimension to the security situation there.

GARRETT: So are you still thinking of setting up an alternative government of some form in the west of Fiji?

MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: Well we certainly have to keep operating. We cannot just close shop and then leave it to the new regime. So for the time being we are operating from the West because that is where there is most stability, but we will have to review the situation as things change.

GARRETT: Mr. Howard told Mr. Chaudhry that he would not support any government in exile but he pledged to continue smart sanctions against Fiji. The smart sanctions designed to effect the government more than ordinary Fijians will stay in place until the government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase shows it's returning the country to democracy. The first test Mr. Howard said would be whether the planned constitutional review would be held in a totally independent and transparent manner.

Mr. Chaudhry and Mr. Howard also discussed the prospects for international action, including at a meeting in September of the Commonwealth ministerial group. Afterwards Mr. Chaudhry spoke to journalists.

MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: I think I was able to give Mr. Howard my own impressions of what had happened, where we are now and what I foresee in the near future.

GARRETT: And what was achieved in your talks with Mr. Howard?

MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: Well we both got a better understanding of the situation. He got an understanding of how I see things in Fiji. And there's not just one dimension to it. There are several dimensions to it. In terms of my own thinking it will not be easy for the return of a multi-racial democracy in Fiji and I have given him my reasons for thinking so.

JOURNALIST: Can Australia do more though, do you think?

MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: Maybe in due course, yes.

JOURNALIST: Like what?

MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: Well it all depends as to what time frame is put by the new administration. For instance, they have said they will now appoint a review commission for the constitution. They want to help look at new constitutional arrangements and they envisage that this review commission will come up with a constitution in twelve months time and then they will have general elections under that constitution in three years time.

And I think Mr. Howard did say that it will depend on what sort of a review commission will be appointed, whether it will be independent and transparent and all that. But I have pointed out that how many times are we going to have a constitution review because every time somebody loses an election we must end up having an armed takeover of government and then a review process and, you know, it is not a very satisfactory way of dealing with the situation.

JOURNALIST: How much popular support do you think you still have in Fiji?

MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: Well as I said that we are quite confident that we have popular support and that's why I had suggested immediately after my release that maybe the best way to determine our restoration would be to have a UN supervised referendum and let the people decide.

GARRETT: Now George Speight is in prison. Is this the time for a faster pace towards the return of democracy in Fiji and how could the president do that?

MAHENDRA CHAUDHRY: Well George Speight was one of the players only; there are other players involved here so George Speight's confinement does not conclusively deal with the situation.

For additional reports from ABC Australia News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/ABC News Online.

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