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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 July, 2005, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Army threat to Fijian government
Fijian Commander Frank Bainimarama
Cdr Frank Bainimarama said the government was fishing for votes
The head of Fiji's military says he will remove the country's government if it proceeds with plans to grant amnesty to those involved in a coup in 2000.

The army "will have no qualms about removing a government that will bring back chaos", Commander Frank Bainimarama said in a statement.

But Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said the measure would remove resentment lingering after the coup.

It could mean the release from jail of coup leader George Speight.

Speight launched the coup to claim power for indigenous Fijians, removing the ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

The military will dish out the same treatment to people breaking the law as we did to George Speight
Commander Frank Bainimarama

Speight and six gunmen stormed parliament, taking hostages including the prime minister.

Order was restored by the military, led by Cdr Bainarama, and Mr Qarase was installed as interim leader before winning free elections in 2002.

Speight is now serving a life sentence for treason.

Should the bill pass, Cdr Bainarama threatened, "I will take the people back to the evening of 28 May (2000)", when he declared martial law.

"I am issuing a stern warning as commander that the military will dish out the same treatment to people breaking the law as we did to George Speight and his colleagues," he told Reuters.


He said he believed the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill would leave Fiji vulnerable to further unrest.

Fijian coup leader George Speight
George Speight has been jailed for life

He said the law could lead to oppression of Fiji's ethnic Indians, who make up around 40% of the 900,000 population, and that the government was trying to appeal to the indigenous vote ahead of elections due next year.

Fiji's opposition Labour Party has also expressed hostility to the bill, walking out of parliament last month, and police and civil rights groups have voiced concerns.

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.

Any person granted amnesty will then be released "forthwith", the bill states.

Mr Qarase said: "The bill will go on despite whatever opposition comes our way.

"The bill is offering a political solution, that is legally binding, to end the investigations into the 2000 crisis."

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06 Aug 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Fiji leaders convicted over coup
05 Aug 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Fiji
24 May 03 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Fiji
10 Mar 03 |  Country profiles

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