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PM Condemns Hostage Takers As Thugs

Prime Minister Helen Clark has hit out at the Fijian hostage takers over their treatment of Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his Cabinet calling their behaviour “brutal and thuggish.”

In her strongest statement yet on the hostage drama, now in it’s third day, Miss Clark said the Cabinet condemned the “unlawful detention” of Prime Minister Chaudhry and other members of his Government.

She said the Government now had fears for the safety of the Cabinet ministers taken hostage, after being further updated on the situation today.

“We are particularly concerned about the physical treatment and threats that have been made against the Prime Minister and the other hostages. Mr Chaudhry and his Ministers have been subjected to severe psychological pressure and in some cases physical abuse.”

Miss Clark said she had received advice the Prime Minister had at one point been dragged outside with a gun to his head after he refused to sign papers agreeing to resign his position. He had then been seen by a doctor.

George Speight. the ringleader of the men controlling the hostages Fijian businessman has repeatedly declared that any attempt to rescue the hostages by force would result in casualties.

In an interview with Radio New Zealand this afternoon Mr Speight confirmed that he had taken the Prime Minister outside “to show the world we mean businesss.”

Miss Clark also sent a message of support to Fijian President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara who is involved in the negotiations with Mr Speight. President Mara’s daughter is a Cabinet Minister in the current Fijian Government and is one of the hostages.

“I sent a message to President Ratu Mara last evening conveying the support of all New Zealanders. This is a very difficult time for him both as a father and as the legitimate President of Fiji.

“I know that he is working extremely hard to find a peaceful solution to the present crisis, and I have assured him of our complete support in his efforts.”

Miss Clark said Mr Speight had threatened to kill President Mara’s daughter and the Prime Minister Choudhry first if any action was taken against his men.

Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff told the press conference that New Zealand and the international community continued to treat the ongoing crisis as a criminal hostage rather than a coup attempt.

“The situation in Fiji is very different from what happened last time, this time there is no support from the army or the police for a coup.”

Mr Goff also had harsh words for hostage taker George Speight. Calling Mr Speight a "crook" Mr Goff said he was to appear in a Fijian court on the day of the coup attempt for extortion. Mr Speight was also wanted in connection with pyramid schemes selling in Australia he said.

New Zealand had offered the help of it’s police force but the Fijian police commissioner had declined, Mr Goff said.

When asked if he was concerned about reports some sections of the police had gone over to Mr Speight’s side Mr Goff said he as yet had received “no advice” this was happening.

New Zealand would continue to support the efforts of the Fijian Police Commissioner Savua, and former coup leader General Sitiveni Rambuka who are continuing to negotiate between the hostage takers and the President, he said.

Miss Clark would be waiting for the a decision from the Native Fijian Council of Chief's who are meeting tommorrow about the crisis.

George Speight has said he would free the hostages if the Council would move to further legislate in favour of native Fijian land-rights.

ends

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