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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 13:55 GMT
Fiji meeting eases coup fears
Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase
Mr Qarase agreed to review the bill
Fiji's prime minister and the head of the army have struck a deal over a controversial amnesty bill, easing the threat of an imminent coup.

PM Laisenia Qarase agreed to review the legislation, while Voreqe Bainimarama agreed not to publicly criticise the government before informing it first.

The army has been angered by the bill, which would allow coup leaders such as George Speight to apply to be released.

Speight led a 2000 coup to claim power for indigenous Fijians.

"There was a frank exchange of views between the parties," said a statement released by a mediator, acting President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, after the meeting between Mr Qarase and Voreqe Bainimarama, also known as Frank.

"Both recognised the need to put the national interest first," it said, and agreed to re-establish "regular channels of communication between the government and the military".

Mr Bainimarama threatened a week ago to topple Mr Qarase's government as a result of the proposed legislation, accusing it of being too lenient towards those involved in the 2000 coup.

The army chief played a key role in putting down the coup, and does not feel the government has done enough to bring its perpetrators to justice, analysts say.

Nearly 800 people have been convicted of taking part in the 2000 coup to claim power for indigenous Fijians - storming parliament and removing the ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

The proposed law states that anyone already convicted and serving a prison sentence for involvement in the coup will be able to have their case reconsidered if they seek amnesty on the grounds that their actions were political rather than criminal.

The bill is expected to go before parliament for a debate in February.

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