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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 August, 2004, 07:20 GMT 08:20 UK
Fiji leaders convicted over coup
Fiji government soldiers struggle with supporters of rebel leader George Speight in Fiji during 2000 coup
The 2000 coup saw PM Mahendra Chaudhry ousted
Fiji's Vice-President Jope Seniloli has been convicted of involvement in a 2000 coup against a previous government.

The High Court found Seniloli and four others guilty of helping George Speight oust Fiji's first Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry.

Seniloli and the other defendants, including deputy parliamentary speaker Rakuita Vakalalabure, are expected to be sentenced on Friday.

The vice-president, who had pleaded not guilty, faces up to eight years jail.

Seniloli is the most senior figure to be implicated in the uprising of May 2000.

The rebellion, by a small number of gunmen led by the indigenous Fijian George Speight, ousted ethnic Indian Mahendra Chaudhry.

Mr Chaudhry's cabinet and lawmakers from his Fiji Labor Party were held at gunpoint for 56 days inside the parliament compound in Suva.

Seniloli and the five other defendants have been found guilty of unlawfully swearing in ministers in the rebel government, while the members of Fiji's elected administration were being held hostage.

A sixth defendant, Sports Minister Sireli Leweniqila, was acquitted of the charge.

The High Court also said Seniloli took an unlawful oath to become president while the incumbent, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, was still in office.

Martial law was put in place in the aftermath of the coup, and George Speight was eventually arrested. He is now serving a life sentence after being convicted as a traitor.

An interim government was installed under Laisenia Qarase, who has since been democratically elected as Fiji's prime minister.

Despite his links with the coup plotters, Seniloli was sworn in as vice president.

Correspondents said at the time that his appointment illustrated how Fijian nationalism has prospered since the uprising.

Laisenia Qarase has been determined to enhance the political and economic power of the indigenous community, which has sometimes come at the expense of the large ethnic Indian minority.

Racial tensions are never far from the surface in Fiji, where indigenous Fijians resent the economic prosperity of the Indian community, which was originally brought the Fiji to work on British colonial sugar cane farms.

There was no immediate reaction to the verdicts from Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's government.

But Fiji's security forces are on high alert around the capital, Suva, and senior officers have warned that protests in support of the vice president will not be tolerated.

The BBC's Phil Mercer
"The true story of this dark chapter in Fiji's history may take years to emerge"

Fijian vice president on trial
28 Jun 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji vice president charged
08 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Who is George Speight?
31 Jan 02  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Fiji
24 May 03  |  Country profiles

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