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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 17:45 GMT
Who is George Speight?
George Speight
Speight sees himself as the champion of ethnic Fijians
George Speight was described as a political lightweight when he staged his extraordinary coup in Fiji in May 2000 - but he has since demonstrated considerable political cunning.

While he was being held on a prison island off the capital Suva awaiting trial for treason, he had the appearance of absolute confidence in his convictions.

I will be whatever my people want me to be

George Speight
Those convictions are straightforward: indigenous Fijians, he believes, are oppressed by the Indian minority - and this situation must be reversed.

If the democratic model used in Fiji delivers a government that oppresses ethnic Fijians, he maintains, then it must be the democratic model which is at fault.

In the coup, Speight's rebels toppled the country's first ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

Speight bases his moral authority on his self-appointed role as the champion of Fijian interests.

"I will be whatever my people want me to be," he told a BBC interviewer who asked about his political ambitions.

Plotter's CV
Background in business and marketing
Son of opposition MP
Lost contracts when father lost power
Those who have dealt with him say he can switch rapidly from charm to anger when confronted with suggestions that are not to his liking - and any criticism of himself is brushed aside as implicit support for the continued oppression of Fijians.

Speight confounded predictions early on in the crisis that his coup attempt would not attract support.

After initially backing the constitutional order, Fiji's powerful Great Council of Chiefs said it had some sympathy with his demands. Disillusioned soldiers also expressed support for Speight's aims.

Speight was elected MP in September 2001, but was dismissed in December after being unable to attend parliament.

The consititution does not ban him from running for the seat again in a by-election.

Business interests

George Speight is the son of an opposition MP, Sam Speight, who was a senior member in the government of 1987 coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka. That government lost power in 1999 when Mr Chaudhry won a landslide election victory.

Chaudhry: Cause of Indian-Fijian ethnic tensions?
Speight's business interests suffered following the 1999 election.

Mr Chaudhry sacked Speight as chairman of two Fijian firms involved in the country's lucrative timber trade. He had been appointed to both posts by the previous government.

Speight was also a key player in an American company which lost a bid to harvest Fiji's mahogany forests.

Mahogany millions

The US firm Trans Resource Management alleged foul play when the concession was awarded to a rival.

Indigenous Fijians accused the ethnic Indian prime minister of giving economic advantages to the Indian community.

The country has the world's richest mahogany resources - currently valued at more than $60m.

Speight was also sacked as managing director of insurance broker Heath (Fiji) Ltd over alleged misuse of funds.

Speight, who is of mixed Fijian and European descent, has no military background.

He is a graduate in commerce from an Australian university and was sponsored by his father's SVT party to do postgraduate studies in the US.

Coup in Fiji

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19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
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