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The BBC's Red Harrison
"Mr Chaudhry had banned protest marches"
 real 28k

Coup leader George Speight
"It's a foundation for change - once and for all"
 real 28k

The BBC's Giles Beckford
"Important and significant that the army is not involved"
 real 28k

Phil Goff, New Zealand Foreign Minister
"It is not yet clear the extent of the support that they have"
 real 28k

Friday, 19 May, 2000, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
Attempted coup in Fiji
The seizure of parliament is reminiscent of the 1987 coup
The seizure of parliament has rekindled memories of the 1987 coup
Fiji's president has declared a state of emergency after a group of armed civilians took over the government.

President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara has declared the coup illegal.

Coup leader George Speight, a local businessman, said he was acting in the name of indigenous Fijians against a government dominated by politicians of Indian ethnic origin.

A small group of his supporters are holding Fiji's first ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudry and seven cabinet ministers hostage at parliament in the capital Suva.

Fiji facts
51% indigenous Fijians
44% Indian Fijians
Made up of 300 islands
Sitiveni Rabuka led coup in 1987
Fiji has been a constitutional democracy

Businesses in Suva shut their doors as looting broke out in the Fijian capital. Schools were also closed.

Diplomatic sources in New Zealand and Australia say shots were fired during the takeover, but there are so far no reports of any casualties.

Army

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said the takeover could not be called a coup as it did not involve the military.



"I'm horrified that such an act should be carried out against a democratically elected leader

Australian Prime Minister John Howard
"The military was not aware in advance of that action and has not supported it," he said.

Mr Speight said the army was backing his move.

"I would like to announce that Fiji is currently under civilian rule, with the assistance of armed forces, who are passive but will remain at the beck and call, and the control of the civilian government that is in place at this time and is headed by myself," he said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard condemned the takeover.

"I'm horrified that such an act should be carried out against a democratically elected leader, a fellow commonwealth prime minister, a person who was a guest in Australia only a matter of a few weeks ago." he said.

"I share the anxiety of many about the situation and I hope it can be peacefully resolved without any loss of life or injury."

New administration

Mr Speight has already named Ratu Timoci Silatolu as interim prime minister.

An MP for the Fijian Association Party, Ratu Timoci has only been in parliament for a year.

rabuka
Sitiveni Rabuka is reported to be taking part in negotiations

Two other indigenous politicians have been appointed home affairs minister and Fijian affairs minister.

Mr Speight, the son of an opposition politician Sam Speight, read a statement to reporters saying he was claiming executive power over Fiji and revoking the constitution.

"We set foundations for change once and for all in the affairs of the country of Fiji as desired by the indigenous people," he said.

"Now, they will be able to achieve self-determination and control the future destiny in all matters pertaining to their livelihood."

His statement was posted on the internet site Fijilive (www.fijilive.com) and was broadcast on local radio.

It is thought a small group of men carrying AK 47 rifles used the cover of a demonstration to storm the government building.

The prime minister is said to be locked in an office in the upper floor of the building.

Mr Chaudhry's government was elected under a non-racial constitution a year ago to the day. He was the first ethnic Indian to head a government in Fiji.

But his administration has been accused of aggravating racial divisions between the majority Fijian community and Indians, who make up less than half the population.

Fijian nationalist groups have recently held street protests vowing to topple the government and in the past 24 hours there was an attempt to set fire to an historic Indian landmark.

The takeover has rekindled memories of the military coup of 1987, where a similar style takeover of parliament toppled the then democratically elected Indian-dominated government.

Mediate

Mr Speight is a Fijian businessman involved in forestry and is believed to be linked with nationalist groups which had been protesting against the Indian-dominated government.

There are reports that the former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has gone to parliament to mediate with those behind the coup.

Mr Rabuka led two coups in 1987, declared the island a republic but subsequently resigned.

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See also:

19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Coup leader speaks
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Ethnic split behind Fiji coup
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