Thursday, July 20, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Speight throws a spanner
Fiji Govt’s swearing-in ceremony

SUVA, July 19 (AFP) — Fiji was plunged back into turmoil today after nationalist rebels forced the swearing-in ceremony of the new government to be postponed with a warning that the country was “verging on a civil war”.

President Josefa Iloilo was to have sworn in 20 new ministers and 12 assistant ministers including acting Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, at a ceremony.

The ceremony was supposed to end the country’s political crisis which erupted after years of simmering ethnic tensions between indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians who make up 44 per cent of the population.

But the President failed to show up, leaving Mr Qarase to announce that he was “indisposed,” and that the swearing-in ceremony was being put off to an unspecified date.

The dramatic no-show followed a warning from Mr George Speight, leader of the rebels who overthrew the country’s previous government and held it hostage in Parliament for nearly two months, that the composition of the new government was unacceptable to him and his supporters.

The new administration contained one close ally of Mr Speight and a number of sympathisers but the rebels were largely excluded from key positions.

Mr Speight’s spokesman Mr Joe Nata, warned before the ceremony was due to take place that there would be trouble if the new government was appointed.

“If they swear in the government, it will lead to a civil war. It is not an empty threat,” Mr Nata told AFP shortly before the swearing-in ceremony was to take place.

Mr Speight told Fiji Broadcasting Commission (FBC) that the new government had to include “our people to champion our cause.”

Witnesses said several cars were torched as Mr Speight, a bankrupt businessman, left the complex.

Right till 11 a.m., it appeared the administration believed the ceremony was still going ahead at Borron House, a state-owned property.

As the planned new ministers barring nine gathered in a tent, Mr Qarase announced: “ladies and gentlemen... Regrettably His Excellency, President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, is indisposed this morning. He is resting at home. So regrettably, the swearing-in ceremony is deferred until further notice.”

He gave no new swearing in time.

Mr Iloilo (79) suffers from Parkinsons disease. He also has liver and heart ailments.

His deputy, Mr Joeli Seniloli, is a hardline Speight supporter.

NEW DELHI (PTI): Australia foresees an increase in the number of ethnic Indians in Fiji wanting to migrate to “Down Under” in the near future.

Australian Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Phillip Ruddock has said he expects an increase in the number of Fijians, who have the capacity to migrate, to settle in Australia in the wake of the ouster of the democratically-elected government in the May 10 coup.

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