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Wednesday, 12 July, 2000, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK
Future bleak for Fiji's Indians
Rebels attack car with stick
Indians and their property have been targeted
By Phil Mercer in Suva

On 19 May, democracy was destroyed in Fiji.

The coup toppled a government which was the symbol of the rise in political power of the Indian community, advances encouraged by a multi-racial constitution drafted in 1997.

Now the ethnic Indians - a mix of Muslims, Hindus and Christians - are facing months, possibly years, in the political wilderness.

"We were lost for words," says Ben Bagwan, a Methodist minister. "We don't know where we are."

He says his community has been badly damaged and isolated by the uprising.

Mahendra Chaudhry
Mahendra Chaudhry: Fiji's first ethnic Indian PM
"We are like orphans in a country that we love so much because we are not asked to contribute.

"We have been left aside. We are on the side-track."

The coup has provoked a violent backlash against the Indians.

Many businesses were ruined in the looting which accompanied the storming of parliament.

One Indian village near Suva is deserted, its people refugees on the other side of the island, forced to flee by threats and intimidation.

Rebel stance

It has been the rhetoric of George Speight, the rebel leader, which has fuelled this racial hatred.

George Speight
Mr Speight: Rhetoric has fuelled racial hatred
He says people must remember that the indigenous population is the host community in Fiji.

"We reserve the right to expect all visiting communities, regardless of how long they've been here, to at least assimilate with us, understand the culture and try and fit in," he says.

"As far as our Indian brothers are concerned, that has not happened.

"We fear in our country, it's not so much a hate of the Indians but a fear of our host culture and everything unique about ourselves being eroded to the extent that it could be lost."

Economy in crisis

The Indians were brought to Fiji as indentured labour by British colonists more than 100 years ago.

They now dominate the key industries of sugar and garment manufacturing, which are losing millions of dollars a day as the economy continues to suffer because of the uncertainty.

T C Solanki runs a shop in Suva which was attacked by the looters. He says the situation now is as bad as it was then.

Rebel supporters stack supplies of the root vegetable taro
The crisis has seriously damaged the islands' economy
"We are so fearful. Every person, every home is so afraid of getting out of the houses and things are getting worse," Mr Solanki says.

" Most of the persons have been victimised by looting, robbing, raping their children and so forth and we don't feel at all secure ourselves."

During these eight weeks, many Indians have told me of their plans to leave Fiji for good.

People have got to talk and we will get back to normal

Businessman Ragubar Singh
Sixty-thousand left after the coups in 1987. Some estimates put the number expected to go this time around to be even higher.

But Ragubar Singh, a businessman whose premises were burnt down during May's anarchy, says moving abroad would be too hasty a decision for him to take.

"We have to find a way, find a solution," he says. "Having lived here it is not easy to change as far as I am concerned.

" Things will settle and then nobody will talk about leaving Fiji."

Brain drain

Those most likely to go are skilled professionals. Many have gone already, starting a brain drain the economy can ill afford.

The British High Commissioner in Fiji, Michael Dibben, said those with the right skills will find an easy way out.

"Many Indian families have got relatives in Australia and New Zealand pre-eminently, but also in Britain or Canada or the US.

"Anyone who's got expertise - that is technical knowledge or a professional degree or some sort of saleable knowledge - I think will find a ready market in one of those countries."

A year ago, Mahendra Chaudhry won a decisive election victory here.

The racist forces which hijacked his administration in the name of indigenous rights seem likely to wipe the ethnic Indians - who make up 44% of the population - off Fiji's political map.

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See also:

12 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji hostages tell of ordeal
04 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Tall order for Fiji's new PM
07 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight's hold over Fiji
19 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Ethnic split haunts Fijian politics
05 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Speight's demands
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