SUVA ROCKS AS RUGBY HEROES UNITE FIJI

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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Mar. 24) – Fiji’s capital, Suva, was reveling in celebration today as the national sevens team was hailed for its World Cup win in Hong Kong.

In amazing scenes rarely witnessed before, this rugby-crazy country came to a standstill for a national holiday to honor the team.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people packed into the national stadium at Laucala Bay for an official celebration event. Thousands more could not squeeze in and swarmed outside.

An unprecedented outpouring of patriotism followed Fiji’s triumph over archrivals New Zealand 29-19 on Sunday.

People from all of Fiji’s diverse communities wore the national rugby colors of black and white, flew the light blue national flag and partied hard all week.

Korean Kim Sung and his wife from Bay View Heights were just two of the many people of all walks of life who were hoping for a glimpse of the team and the 9-carat gold-plated Melrose Cup at Laucala.

Kim told Fijilive although they were not indigenous they were proud to be Fiji citizens.

"It is a proud moment for the country and hopeful for all the people in the country," he said. "This team is doing what government has been trying to do in just three days," Kim said.

The party culminated with today’s massive event organized by the government - an event that was televised live on Fiji One.

The celebrations were attended by acting President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

On their arrival, team captain Waisale Serevi presented the cup to Ratu Joni who held it aloft as the crowd roared, before passing it on to Qarase who did the same.

The president of the Methodist Church, Reverend Dr. Jione Lagi led a service in which he likened the team’s arrival in the capital to the biblical account of Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem.

The visibly tired players put on a brave face and immersed themselves in the dancing and celebration before receiving government rewards of $10,000 (US$6,000) each.

Qarase, who handed out the cash from the Ministry of Finance’s reserve fund, said no amount of money could repay what the team had done for the country. He also acknowledged golfer Vijay Singh’s achievement of world number one spot, before leading the crowd in three cheers for the team.

Ratu Joni thanked the team for uniting the country like no others have. He also acknowledged Singh.

Among the people celebrating were members of the Hare Krishna faith who earlier entertained while the crowd waited for the team as they struggled through the masses of people and vehicles on the roads leading to the stadium.

Joining them were some men from Wainibuka led by Kiniviliame Vaturoka.

Vaturoka said it was a wonderful day not just for them but also for all other races in Fiji.

"If rugby can bring all of us together then it’s okay because all the Indians and Chinese and everyone is happy about this win, not just us Fijians," he said.

Apart from the World Cup team, champion judoka Nacanieli Takayawa made a grand entrance in a vehicle with mega wheels that made the packed buses look like taxis.

Almost all the vehicles and people moving towards the stadium waved the national flag or had it draped on them.

About 300 police officers deployed to maintain security at the event struggled with the sheer numbers of vehicles and people.

The officers did little to spoil the fun, allowing vehicles to use both lanes as traffic squeezed its way down Laucala Bay Road toward the one destination.

Vehicles traveling away from the national stadium fought to get out, Fijilive reporters said, as police blocked off roads around the complex and tried to ease the flow of traffic.

March 25, 2005

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