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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 08:05 GMT
Fiji to abolish death penalty
Coup leader George Speight
Coup leader Speight goes on trial on Monday
Fiji is abolishing the death penalty for treason ahead of a trial of 13 coup plotters for the same crime.

Coup leader George Speight and 12 associates are due in court on Monday on charges relating to their armed occupation of parliament in May 2000.


The death penalty should go

Attorney General Qoriniasi Bale
Their action led to the toppling of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his cabinet.

Under the current law, Mr Speight and his co-conspirators would face a mandatory death sentence if convicted. The abolition of the death penalty is expected to be ratified before verdicts are handed down.

Capital punishment was scrapped for most crimes in 1967, but was retained for treason and piracy.

Attorney General Qoriniasi Bale on Tuesday denied accusations that the change was designed to appease Mr Speight.

"It is not intended to satisfy George Speight and his supporters but to allow us to deal with Speight's case and to deal with the death penalty." he said.

"This government is very firmly of the view that the death penalty should go."

Capital punishment has not been used since the mid-1960s when a convicted murderer was hanged.

Constitutional challenge

The government was expected to present its case on Wednesday against a legal challenge from the opposition Fiji Labour Party.

Labour's leader, former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry
Mr Chaudhry is backed by ethnic Indians
The Labour Party says it has been excluded from Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's coalition government contrary to the country's 1997 constitution

Labour's leader, former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, has said his party, which draws most of its support from the ethnic-Indian community, should have been given at least six of the 21 cabinet positions.

Analysts warn defeat for the government could prompt a nationalist backlash.

Racial tensions have dogged Fiji and correspondents say Mr Qarase, a nationalistic ethnic Fijian, has done little to foster reconciliation.

The court hearing, which is being held under tight security, is expected to end on Friday.

See also:

12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Court challenge to Fiji Government
08 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji rebel kicked out of parliament
02 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji returns to democracy
09 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Fiji risks new ethnic gulf
05 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji coup leader becomes MP
31 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Who is George Speight?
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