Sunday, May 21, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Speight declares himself PM
Chaudhry beaten up, threatened

SUVA, May 20 (Reuters, AFP)—Fiji’s Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry was beaten and threatened with death today by a failed businessman holding him and Cabinet ministers hostage in the national Parliament, Fijian Radio reported.

Radio Fiji said the Premier was hauled off and bashed after he interjected in a radio broadcast from the Parliament in Suva where he has been held. It is not known how seriously he has been injured.

According to a report, local fm 96 Radio reported today that five Fiji mps being held hostage in Parliament House have been released.

Speight was reported to have earlier held a gun to Mr Chaudhry’s head and threatened to kill him unless he called President Sir Ratu Kamisese Mara to order the military away from the Parliament.

State-owned Fiji television reported that Mr Chaudhry — the South Pacific nation’s first ethnic Indian Prime Minister elected exactly a year ago — told Speight to go ahead and shoot.

The President issued a warning to Speight and his band of civilians that he would not bow to threats.

“We wish to see the impasse broken and the captives set free but we will not bow down to threats and coercion,’’ he said in a statement.

The President did not refer directly to the possibility of military action to free Mr Chaudhry but said he had held further talks with the armed forces and the police.

The military and police forces today declared their loyalty to the country’s elected government and said they will only take orders from the President.

Police commander Isikia Savua told a press conference that his force would only accept instructions from the President.

Mr Chaudhry has not spoken publicly since the coup but was pushed back inside the Parliament by Speight as he shouted "we are not legitimising anything" to local reporters.

Radio Fiji said Mr Chaudhry had been forced by Speight to make a statement to local reporters urging the President not to back any attempts to use force to retake the Parliament building.

Speight told reporters he had been negotiating during the night with former Fiji Prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka, who staged an armed coup and took power in 1987. Mr Chaudhry defeated Mr Rabuka with an overwhelming majority in elections to the 71-seat Parliament last may.

Mr Rabuka has made several visits to the Parliament house in the past 24 hours but has given no indication he was involved in the move against 57-year-old Mr Chaudhry and his mixed-race government.

"The situation is not good but it is workable," Rabuka told reporters. "I hope we can finish it today," he said.

In a potent sign of Fiji’s racial divide, indigenous Fijians and other Indian mps were separated and locked in separate parts of the Parliament building after the attack on Parliament.

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