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Victim is 14-year-old student

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Jan. 6, 2009) – A chief wants seven men accused of raping a Class Eight student to be kept away from their village because villagers are angry about the alleged incident.

Security was tight when the men appeared in the Labasa court yesterday.

Police presence around the men was high after violent threats were made against the seven.

No plea was taken when Meliki Namatea, 21, Nikola Vunibola, 19, Aloveti Bolatagane, 22, Laisenia Navolau, 26, Kitione Nacadra, 27, Kelemedi Moceiwasa, 33, and Maika Nakorolevu, 19, appeared before Magistrate Penijamini Lomaloma.

They are alleged to have gang-raped a 14-year-old girl from Bua at Nadrano Settlement in Lutukina on December 22.

The girl's age was confirmed by police through a birth certificate check to be 14 and not 12 as she earlier told them.

Police are hunting down the eighth suspect in the case who is reportedly hiding in forests near Drawa in the interior of Dreketi.

Crime officer Seaqaqa Kamlesh Chand said that tension was high at Lutukina where they allegedly raped the girl.

"The Tui Dreketi has also asked police that the seven men must not return to Dreketi because of the shame they have brought to his vanua, which people are angry about," Mr Chand told the court.

He made the comments as part of prosecutor Dharmendra Kumar's application for the men to be remanded in custody because tension was high at Lutukina.

Mr Chand told the court it would be unsafe to release the seven until tension had abated.

In a strong application for bail, the accuseds' lawyer, Thomas Lee, of Legal Aid, argued the case had grabbed the media spotlight and if the courts were to only act in the public's interest, then his clients' fundamental rights to being innocent until proven guilty would be comprised.

Mr Lee said he had been instructed by the seven that claims of tension at Tunuloa was just talk without any incident happening to prove tension existed.

However, Magistrate Lomaloma rejected the bail application, saying he was doing so in the public's interest and for the safety of the accused.

Bail will be reviewed when the men re-appear in court on January 19.

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