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The BBC's Phil Mercer in Fiji
"The army has admitted firing first in the gunfight outside the parliament compound"
 real 28k

Fiji army spokesman Col Filipo Tarakinikini
"The whole incident was rather unfortunate"
 real 28k

Fiji Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase
"The military is entirely responsible for the hostage crisis"
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Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Gun battle at Fiji's parliament
Fiji shooting victim
A medical team attends a victim of the shooting
Government troops in Fiji have shot and wounded five people including two rebel gunmen in an exchange of fire outside the parliament compound in the capital, Suva.

Soldiers loyal to rebel leader George Speight have also staged a mutiny on Fiji's second island, Vanua Levu, where they have overrun an army base.

The gun battle outside the parliament in Suva, where Mr Speight is holding 27 politicians hostage, occurred only hours after Fiji's new indigenous prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, was sworn in.



A military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini, said the shooting began when a group of about 200 men came out of the compound and one appeared to raise his weapon ready to shoot.

Fourteen of the men were detained by government troops after grenades were thrown at them.

Correspondents say the shooting may have been provoked by the frustration of the hostage-takers over the appointment of a new civilian administration, which did not take account of rebel demands.

Mr Speight and his gunmen, who seized Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his racially mixed cabinet on 19 May, want all political power to be handed to indigenous Fijians.

shooting victim, fiji
At least four civilians were wounded

Mr Tarakinikini said the military authorities had sent a delegation of officers to Vanua Levu to try to defuse the crisis there.

He said the rebel soldiers had seized rifles from an armoury in Labasa, the main town on the island, and loaded them on to a truck.

Radio reports said shops and schools had been closed in Labasa, which has a population of about 50,000.


Laisenia Qarase: Fiji's new PM
Indigenous Fijian, aged 59
General manager of Merchant Bank of Fiji
Former head of Fiji Development Bank
Has ruled out return to 1997 multi-ethnic constitution
Aims to revive Fiji's economy

Mr Speight has rejected the new administration of Laisenia Qarase, a 59-year-old merchant banker, even though it is made up solely of ethnic Fijians.

The new prime minister on Tuesday stressed the "paramountcy of indigenous Fijian interests".

But he urged Fijians to recognise that the country "draws its strength from its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society".

About 44% of Fiji's population of 800,000 is ethnic Indian, and the Indian community dominates business.

Economic decline

Mr Qarase warned that the Fiji economy would be ruined if the crisis continued.

He urged Mr Speight to release the hostages, so that Fijians "can move quickly to arrest the decline in the economy".

He said more than 5,000 people had lost their jobs in the past few weeks and many more had suffered pay cuts.

A new government has been sworn in
Laisenia Qarase: Interim prime minister

Mr Speight earlier warned the military that Fiji's indigenous chiefs would order their men to leave the army.

He said Fiji's military chief, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, would soon find himself with no-one left to command.

The military, which plans to retain executive power until the hostages are released, has given the civilian administration the task of preparing a draft resolution for a new constitution and free elections within two years.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Tall order for Fiji's new PM
02 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Military to pressure Fiji rebels
28 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji rebels reject military rule
17 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji rebels to help rewrite constitution
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight's hold over Fiji
11 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji coup begins to bite
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji hostages' long ordeal
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Ethnic split haunts Fijian politics
05 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Speight's demands
29 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Fiji's divided army
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