The Guardian May 24, 2000


Fiji's community condemns coup

As The Guardian went to press Fiji was still being held to ransom 
by the instigators of the May 18 coup. Members of Parliament and government 
Ministers, including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, remain hostages of 
the small band of armed men led by business man George Speight. The meeting 
of Chiefs was about to commence.

On May 18 two events took place in Fiji's capital Suva almost 
simultaneously  an armed seizure of the parliament building which took 
everyone inside hostage; and an anti-government march and rally of the 
indigenous Fijian Taukei movement members.

The leader of the Taukei movement, Ratu Tevita Bolobolo, then made a 
statement which was supported by the main opposition party, the SVT.

"We do not and we will never accept the reinstatement of the Chaudhry 
Government. We hereby state that we fully support the abolition of the 1997 
constitution and warn Fijian President Ratu Mara that any intervention by 
force will lead to all out civil war. We the Taukei are ready to make the 
ultimate sacrifice so as to return this country to the Taukei."

George Speight was under investigation for shady financial dealings in the 
timber industry. Apisai Tora, another leader of the Taukei movement which 
has been trying to destabilise Fiji since last year, was also under 
investigation for financial mismanagement.

In fact, these people, as Dr Ratuva of the University of the South Pacific 
noted, were really trying to "get the Chaudhry Government before it gets 
them".

When the Chaudhry Government was elected a year ago, a number of the Fijian 
middle class who had enjoyed the benefits of government contracts during 
the previous Rabuka regime lost out when the Fiji Labor Party came to 
power.

"They are playing the `indigenous card' but most are really out for their 
own personal self-interest and in fact support the privatisation of Fijian 
lands for commercial development by people like themselves", said Dr 
Ratuva.

Is Speight acting alone?

One of the main questions is whether Speight is acting as a lone ranger or 
if there are any other political forces who are using him as a puppet or 
vehicle to set up a new government more to their liking.

That is how Speight himself puts it:

"When I overthrew the coalition government of Mahendra Chaudhry yesterday 
in fact at the same time I abrogated the constitution of Fiji, through a 
civilian coup. My actions install in Fiji a civilian-led government with me 
as its head of state to effectively control power.

"But in abrogating the constitution I effectively removed all laws existing 
in Fiji so we have no legal foundation on which to run our affairs.

"Consequently we have two options on which to progress, with regard to 
establishing a legal foundation for the running of the affairs of the 
civilian government which I put in place: one was to use my executive 
powers as head of state to bring back the abrogated constitution with 
certain amendments that would safeguard the status of the indigenous 
Fijians.

"Or alternatively I would proceed down the path of the formulation and 
promulgation of appropriate decrees which would achieve the same thing in 
its own way. I have chosen the latter strategy and that is to formulate and 
promulgate decrees.

Reaction to the coup

Reactions from organisations within Fiji were practically identical  
demands for the safety of the hostages and condemnation of the act itself.

The Movement for Democracy and Human Rights in Fiji stressed that "if this 
senseless and armed takeover is allowed to succeed, the future of 
democratic governments not only in Fiji but the Pacific will be in 
jeopardy".

The Fiji Citizens' Constitutional Forum (CCF), a community-based group 
which played a key role in the establishment of the multi-racial 1997 
constitution, strongly condemned the kidnapping of the Government and the 
looting and violence.

"We call especially on our international partners who have contributed to 
the long process of democratisation in Fiji which culminated in our 1997 
Constitution  governments, churches, NGOs and committed individuals  to 
join us in this chorus of condemnation against this `civil coup'", said 
executive director Reverend Akuila Yabaki.

"The group of seven armed men who have carried out these acts of violence 
are made of unpopular politicians and discredited businessmen. Anyone who 
thinks that the ethnic Fijian community can benefit from this coup is 
living in a fool's paradise."

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