FIJI MINISTER: IF BILL FAILS, SO DOES GOVERNMENT

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, June 16) - The re-election of the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party-led Fiji government hinges on the success of the Promotion of Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill, Attorney-General Qoriniasi Bale said yesterday.

"If the Bill goes down, the government goes down with it," Bale told the first State-organized public meeting on the Bill in Suva.

But at the same meeting, Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua Party national director Jale Baba denied the Bill was engineered for election purposes.

"If anything, it will be negative for the party," Baba said.

He said Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase saw the need to promote reconciliation since the Government was formed in 2001.

The comments come as Opposition leader Mahendra Chaudhry said Qarase was trying to hide the real purpose of the Bill, which was to free political prisoners.

Chaudhry said enacting the Bill would mean legalizing terrorism. "That is the simple truth," he said.

Chaudhry said the Bill was clear in its provision that all those in prison for criminal offences related to the 2000 coup would be given first priority if they applied "to the so-called Reconciliation and Unity Commission" for amnesty.

"Indeed, the provisions of the Bill dealing with pardon are deliberately left loose enough to accommodate a situation of general amnesty."

Chaudhry said the unlawful overthrow of a democratically elected government was treason - the most serious criminal offence.

He said Qarase deliberately misinterpreted facts when he claimed police investigations into the criminal activities of 2000 were delayed because people failed to come up with information.

"The belligerent and aggressive manner in which the Bill is being bulldozed through in defiance of vigorous opposition from almost all quarters in the country, is not in the best interest of the nation," he said.

Bale said the talk of reconciliation had begun decades ago but no government had been able to put it into a law.

Bale said the Bill was not introduced too early because of the negative thoughts it would generate with regards to the amnesty aspect.

June 17, 2005

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