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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Mahendra Chaudhry: Democratic crusader
Mahendra Chaudhry
Mahendra Chaudhry: Ousted - but unbowed
Fiji's deposed prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, has emerged with dignity from a harrowing ordeal.


I think I have a vision for Fiji - unfortunately we were not allowed fo fulfil that

Mahendra Chaudhry
After being held hostage for two months, he magnanimously forgave his captor, the rebel-leader George Speight, whose actions led to the overthrow of his multiracial coalition government.

"I have no animosity towards him. I have no ill feelings towards anybody. I think I am a very forgiving person," Mr Chaudhry said.

The ethnic Indian ex-prime minister said he feared for his life during captivity, and once had a gun held to his head - but he has lost no time in attempting a comeback.

First Indian premier

"I think I have a vision for Fiji. Unfortunately we were not allowed fo fulfil that - we were deposed after 12 months. But I will continue to work for the people," Mr Chaudhry said after his release.

Rajendra Chaudhry
Rajendra, Mahendra's son, was also held hostage
This is not the first coup Mr Chaudhry - a former trade union leader with a reputation for stubborness - has survived.

Mr Chaudhry was finance minister in an earlier Indian-dominated government overthrown by a coup in 1987.

On that occasion he was briefly imprisoned.

The result of both coups was the appointment of a government of indigenous Fijians.

Mr Chaudhry himself is the grandson of an Indian labourer shipped to Fiji in 1912 to work on the islands' sugar plantations.

He became Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister in 1999.

Trained as an auditor, he was determined to stamp out corruption and was quick to demand payment of unpaid taxes.

Principles

He also sacked George Speight from his position as chairman of the Fiji Hardwood Corporation.


I feel sorry for him

Mahendra Chaudhry on President Ratu Josefa Iloilu
Events have now made Mr Chaudhry a figurehead for the aspirations of Fiji's Indian community - who make up 44% of the population - and a crusader for democracy and the rule of law.

"Our commitment to these principles requires the reinstatement of the legitimate, democratically-elected people's coalition government," he said.

"The opposite of that would be to condone an act of anarchy and unlawful seizure of a government elected by the people."

Family support

Mr Chaudhry has said he feels sorry for the country's new president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, who now has to preside over a country facing international sanctions and more ethnic and political turmoil.

Fiji mosque
More than 40% of Fijians are of Indian descent
In his struggle to return to power he will be supported not only by Fijian Indians, but also his remaining relatives in the northern Indian province of Haryana.

His brother-in-law, Mahavir Singh, and three of his nieces, met the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in the early days of the crisis to appeal for diplomatic steps to ensure his safety.

Mr Chaudhry has kept in close contact with his sister's family, in the village of Bahujamalpar, and last visited them there in 1997.

See also:

23 May 00 | South Asia
Relatives plead for Fiji PM
19 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Delay to new Fiji Government
13 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight: I'd do it again
18 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji's new order: Key players
13 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chaudhry fears for Fiji's future
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