Monday, May 29, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Gunshots near Mara’s house
State TV goes off the air 
Speight plans rule by decree

SUVA, May 28 (Agencies) — A mob of indigenous Fijians today headed along the main road from the centre of the Fijian capital towards Parliament and gunshots were fired near the home of President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, witnesses said.

State television went off the air amid reports that the building had been stormed. There was no independent confirmation.

A TV programme had broadcast international media reaction to the actions of coup leader George Speight, who stormed Parliament on May 19 claiming power for indigenous Fijians, and labelled him a criminal.

The Programme Director of state-owned Fiji TV said earlier a mob had tried to storm the broadcasting building, about 1 km from Government House, and staff were taking refuge in a nearby hotel.

A police source said officers had been given orders to shoot anyone on the main road. Everyone in the hotel was told to go to their rooms and smashing glass could be heard outside.

The hotel pulled down its hurricane shutters and a big van was parked across the front entrance.

Witnesses said the mob had left the area within a few hours and heavily-armed security forces were seen along the road. The crowd was on foot and escorted by two vehicles.

Hanging out of the window of one was one of Speight’s gunmen.

Local FM96 radio said four shots were fired by a group of youths behind Government House, Mr Mara’s home. Journalists said the shots had been fired into the tyre of a police vehicle.

Former insurance salesman Speight is holding Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and most of his Cabinet captive inside the Parliament complex. Mr Mara yesterday suspended Mr Chaudhry’s government in a bid to end the crisis and said he was the only person in charge.

Earlier today, Speight said the crisis was close to resolution and the hostages could be freed within 48 hours.

Meanwhile, Speight dismissed as insufficient the President’s wholesale sacking of the elected government today and declared he planned to rule by decree for up to a year.

Speight described Mr Mara’s removal of the country’s first ethnic Indian Prime Minister and his government as an “act of a desperate man.”

At a press conference, Speight also ruled out the Prime Minister’s immediate release.

Mr Mara would have to resign first, he said, and the 1997 Constitution which enshrines the ethnic Indian population’s right to share in Fiji’s government torn up and replaced with one guaranteeing rule by indigenous Fijians.

The crisis in Fiji, which entered its 10th day today, is increasingly becoming a stand-off between the two rival claimants to power in Fiji.

There are also signs that Fiji may split. Fiji’s Western district, home to sugar capital Lautoka and the international airport at Nadi, is pro-Chaudhry, who comes from the area. Its chiefs have already come out in his support.

The attempted coup, meanwhile, continued to draw international condemnation today.

In Brussels, the world’s largest trade union body set in motion a campaign of action that may include sanctions and strikes, as Australian unions launched a wave of transport and communications boycotts.

“Australians will not support terrorists who hold elected government representatives at gunpoint and hijack a Constitution,” said Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharan Burrow.

“We watched our trade union colleagues in Fiji develop a democracy movement and they built a democratic system 12 months ago.

“And if that can be brought to nothing, the civilised world can’t sit back and ignore that.”

The Australian Government also turned up the heat, warning of tough measures if democracy is not restored.

CAIRO: The President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Ms Najma Heptullah, on Sunday threatened expulsion of Fiji from the union if democratic process was not restored in the country by October.

“If by October, when the IPU meets in Jakarta for its meeting, the situation does not change in Fiji, then the IPU could kick out the country from the grouping,” she said here.

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