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The BBC's Helen Wade
"George Speight seemed upbeat"
 real 56k

The ABC's Sean Dorney in Suva
"Speight's lawyer said the amnesty was still in place"
 real 28k

Friday, 4 August, 2000, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Fiji rebel leader pleads not guilty
Speight was brought by boat from Nukulau island
Fijian rebel leader George Speight has pleaded not guilty to firearms and public order offences at a court appearance in Suva.

Heavy security surrounded the building as Mr Speight and 12 co-conspirators arrived after being brought by boat from a prison on the island of Nukulau.

Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo remanded Mr Speight and his supporters for a further hearing on 1 September.

Mr Speight faced five relatively minor firearms and public order charges arising out of the 56-day coup which ended last month - the military have said they want him to be charged with treason, a capital offence.

Speight's military adviser Ilisoni Ligairi appeared with a bandaged head
Speight's military adviser Ilisoni Ligairi appeared with a bandaged head
After the hearing, all 13 men were ordered to return to their prison island.

Prosecutors argued against granting bail, saying that Mr Speight should be detained "to protect the society at large".

Mr Speight did not look at the media nor say anything as he was escorted from the bus and taken into the court cells, his usually shaven head covered in stubble.

Just in front of him, wearing a white bandage swathed around his head, was his military advisor, Ilisoni Ligairi.

Mr Speight was taken to hospital briefly on Friday for a medical examination after claiming in a letter to his lawyers that he and seven supporters had been beaten by the military.

No amnesty

The five charges were all specifically linked to the period between 19 May and 27 July, during which Mr Speight and his supporters held Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and members of his multi-racial government hostage.

Mahendra Chaudhry
Chaudhry was held hostage for eight weeks
The dates attached to the charges indicate that prosecutors do not intend to honour the amnesty offered to Mr Speight when he released his hostages.

He violated the terms of the amnesty when he failed to return weapons looted from army barracks.

The charges are:

  • Going armed in public "without lawful occasion and in such a manner as to cause terror".
  • Consorting with people carrying firearms and ammunition
  • Unlawfully burying a supporter in parliament
  • Unlawful assembly at parliament
  • Unlawful assembly at Kalabu school, a rebel stronghold

The illegal burial charge relates to the funeral of a Speight supporter killed in a gun battle with soldiers on 18 July.

Nationalist revolt

Mr Speight and his supporters staged the May coup to demand power for indigenous Fijians.

The rebels demanded Fiji's large ethnic Indian population be stripped of political power.

About 150 more of Mr Speight's supporters have been charged with unlawful assembly, which carries a maximum penalty of one year's jail.

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See also:

02 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Coup batters Fiji's economy
01 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji rebel leader charged
29 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight sent to prison island
03 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Fiji troops kill Speight supporter
27 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Speight arrest sparks turmoil
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