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BBC's Jonathan Head in Suva
"Fiji's indigenous Úlite is deeply ambivalent"
 real 28k

George Speight, coup leader
"I have overthrown a government"
 real 28k

Sitiveni Rabuka, former Fijian Prime Minister
"He must expect that he will be treated as a criminal"
 real 28k

The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"Fiji's main aim seems to be to end this crisis without bloodshed"
 real 28k

Monday, 22 May, 2000, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Crisis meeting for Fiji chiefs
George Speight with his human shield in parliament complex
Speight and his human shield at the parliament complex
Traditional tribal leaders are due to meet in Fiji on Tuesday in an attempt to resolve the political crisis caused by the takeover of the parliament by a group of armed rebels.

The meeting of the unelected but enormously influential Great Council of Chiefs will be chaired by the former prime minister, Sitiveni Rabuka.

He has been mediating in the crisis and warned the leader of the attempted coup, George Speight, that his actions could split the Fijian community.

former prime minister Rabuka
Rabuka says coup could split community
Mr Rabuka, who himself came to power in a coup in 1987, said he supported the aims of the armed rebels - but not their methods.

Mr Speight said he would "retire" if the Great Council of Chiefs did not back his coup, but that he had significant support among them.

President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara has repeated his call for the gunmen who seized parliament last Friday to lay down their weapons.

President Ratu Mara told a news conference in the capital, Suva, that Mr Speight was not recognised either in Fiji or abroad.

He said the coup leader should enter into talks about his grievances and he pledged to take the concerns of the indigenous Fijian majority community into account.

The president, who holds full executive powers under a state of emergency declared after coup attempt, has declined to guarantee that he would reappoint the ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendhra Chaudhry, once the crisis is resolved.

Public support

Mr Speight has welcomed hundreds of supporters who have come as volunteer human shields inside the parliament complex.

President Ratu at a press conference
Ratu Mura says coup is not recognised
The rebels say they believe the presence of so many civilians will make the authorities outside think twice about armed intervention.

Supporters have been celebrating the uprising just metres from where Mr Chaudhry is being held along with the other captives, including his son and President Ratu Mara's daughter.

Suva came to a standstill on Monday as troops took up key positions and large crowds gathered in support of Mr Speight's coup attempt.

Shops, banks and schools were closed and supporters of the coup were milling around at a market where a violent protest march erupted Friday.

But the streets have been quiet as large numbers of police and soldiers enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

troops outside Suva's reserve bank
Troops gather outside a government building in Suva
The Central Bank of Fiji has strengthened its capital controls after the political crisis in the country caused panic among local businesses.

The Bank said it was tightening the flow of money out of the country but declined to give further details. Businesses in the country have reportedly been scrambling to transfer funds into foreign accounts.

A Bank spokesman said strong measures were needed to ensure that reserves are maintained during this current crisis.

Ready to rule

Mr Speight left the parliament building on Monday to tour the country's looted capital in a police car.

In a sign of increasing confidence, the coup leader spent 45 minutes inspecting central Suva with one police officer and an armed member of his own group.

Mr Speight says he is ready to come out of the parliamentary complex and take his men - whom he describes as his ministers - into Suva to assume their duties at their respective ministries.

armed rebels in suva
Speight's gunmen warn photographers against taking pictures
Police authorities said they had not arrested Mr Speight for fear of endangering the hostages.

The bold public appearance added to the political confusion in Fiji, where the indigenous population has been pitted against the country's large ethnic Indian minority.

The rebels have meanwhile renewed their threat to shoot Prime Minister Chaudhry.

One of his captors said Mr Chaudhry was dragged onto the lawn of the parliament building and had a gun placed at his head.

Mr Chaudhry is the first ethnic Indian prime minister in Fiji, where 43% of people are of Indian origin.

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See also:

22 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Key role of Fiji's chiefs
21 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Tense stand-off in Fiji
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who is Fiji's coup leader?
20 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Coup leader bungles ceremony
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Web news overcomes Fiji blackout
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Ethnic split haunts Fijian politics
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Foreign 'horror' at Fiji coup attempt
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Coup leader speaks
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