FIJI PARTY NAMES PRISONER GEORGE SPEIGHT AS ITS LEADER

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By Matelita Ragogo

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 29, 2001 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---George Speight returned to haunt civil society over the weekend when Vanua Levu’s Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua party decided to appoint him party president.

And another key figure with Speight in the May 19 coup last year, former army Special Forces leader Ilisoni Ligairi, was appointed campaign manager.

Both men are held in a temporary prison on Nukulau Island off Suva and charged with treason following the coup.

During the coup, the government of Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, was taken hostage and ousted.

Electoral Commission chairman Ratu Josua Toganivalu, in a radio interview last week, said Speight could contest the August elections, which will return Fiji to parliamentary government. This is because Speight has not been convicted. But he warned that if convicted, Speight would have to relinquish any seat he wins.

Conservative Alliance Matanintu Vanua executive member Ratu Ilaitia Vakalalabure confirmed the appointments of Speight and Ligairi. He said a meeting in the northern town of Labasa, the main center on the island of Vanua Levu, discussed how indigenous Fijian political parties were taking advantage of the situation created by Speight.

The party’s official spokesman and former information minister, Ratu Josefa Dimuri, could not be reached for comment.

Another Conservative Alliance founder and former parliamentarian who wouldn’t comment on the meeting referred all questions to Ratu Josefa.

But Ratu Ilaitia said while everyone seemed to be disassociating themselves from the coup perpetrators, some are using the opportunity Speight had presented them.

"He will be president in exile for us. He will be informed of our activities somehow, as we have no access to the island prison," he said.

Ratu Ilaitia said Vanua Levu chiefs had previously stood by the Great Council of Chiefs-backed Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei despite the dissent of some chiefs who endorsed the formation of their own Fijian political parties.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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