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Sunday, 11 June, 2000, 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK
Fiji coup begins to bite
George Speight
George Speight has been surrounding himself with his supporters
By Phil Mercer in Suva

Fiji's military, famous for sending peacekeepers to the Balkans, Lebanon and East Timor, is now facing one of its most pressing challenges on home soil.



Democracy has been hijacked by gunmen but the traffic laws remain.

It is more than three weeks since an armed gang lead by George Speight, a failed businessman, stormed the parliament. Mr Speight said he did it for indigenous rights, which he said had been eroded by a government with a strong ethnic Indian influence.

Thirty-one hostages remain in the parliament. They include the deposed Prime Minister Majendra Chaudhry and members of his administration.


The Fijian army
The Fijian army is facing a serious challenge
Martial law was introduced 10 days after the coup. It gave Fiji's senior military officer, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, control of the country.

His soldiers have secured all the approaches to parliament, creating a large buffer zone between the security forces and the compound.

It is not a complete no-go area. The roads are largely deserted except for army vehicles and learner drivers taking advantage of the space.

No-one breaks the speed limit despite it being the most lawless part of the capital. Democracy has been hijacked by gunmen but the traffic laws remain.

Coup begins to bite

There are 800,000 people across these islands. The economic impact of the coup is beginning to bite but life is struggling along.

Most of the people here are warm and long for the days to be ordinary again. They are natural hosts, which has made their tourist trade such a success - until now.


One man, born of Fijian parents in Cardiff in Wales, was so concerned about the mess the islands are in, he flew thousands of miles to offer to take the place of the former prime minister among the hostages

Sit in a traffic jam in the centre of Suva and you see the patient slowly trying to stir. Any sense of normality disappears at the stroke of eight every evening. The curfew runs through until five every morning right across the 300 islands which make up this Pacific archipelago.

The population here is mostly indigenous Fijian, but only just. Indians make up 44% of the population. They were brought to work as indentured labour on the sugar plantations by British colonists at the end of the 19th Century.

Life for the native community revolves around land and their historical attachment to it.


Map of Fiji
One man, born of Fijian parents in Cardiff in Wales, was so concerned about the mess the islands are in, he flew thousands of miles to offer to take the place of the former Prime Minister, Mr Chaudhry.

He waited for hours before being turned away at the gates of parliament. Twenty-seven men and four women remain held at gunpoint inside.

Marching to parliament

On Monday 12 June Fiji takes a day off to mark the Queen's birthday. It will not be a time to celebrate.

Thousands are people from all races are planning to march from Lautoka on the western side of the country's biggest island, Viti Levu, to Suva and the parliamentary complex.

The marchers will include families of the hostages, factory workers who have lost their jobs and school children locked out of classes.

It will be the biggest demonstration so far by ordinary Fijians who just want their country back.

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See also:

09 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji chiefs pressure Speight
08 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji divisions grow
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji spurns Commonwealth
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji hostages' long ordeal
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight's hold over Fiji
02 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: What now for Fiji?
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