The security situation in Suva has sharply deteriorated after moves by President Ratu Mara to isolate the gunmen in the Parliamentary complex and put up a proper cordon to prevent people from coming and going from the compound.
At around 5.10pm Radio New Zealand's reporter live at the scene around Parliament reported as coup leader George Speight took a gulp of Kava before moving down to confront the newly armed troops who have taken up positions.
He succeeded in convincing the - now armed army officers - to allow in a group of supporters and then moved on to the second of around six checkpoints around the Parliamentary compound.
In its 5.30pm bulletin Radio New Zealand reported that heavily armed troops had taken up positions all around the compound and that supporters of speight were now streaming out.
Earlier today Scoop's C.D. Sludge filed the following analysis on the situation in Fiji.
Sludge Report #7 - Negotiating With A Psycopath
Friday, 26 May 2000, 2:10 pm
Column: C.D. Sludge
IN THIS EDITION - FIJI COUP SPECIAL: How Do You Negotiate With A Psycopath? - If This Was A Telemovie - We Haven't Yet Got To The Bottom Of Who Is Behind This! - Conclusions
NOTE: Authors of this report will be anonymous and wide ranging. Indeed you are invited to contribute: The format is as a reporters notebook. It will be published as and when material is available. C.D. Sludge can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Sludge Report will shortly also be available as a free email service..WATCH THIS SPACE>>>>>
Sludge Report #7
How Do You Negotiate With A Psycopath?
Watching events unfold in the Parliamentary Compound in Fiji this week Sludge cannot help but feel a little sorry for the Great Council of Chiefs.
The Council at one stage - when it stood behind President Ratu Mara earlier in the week - looked as if it was about to become the savior of democracy and the rule of law in these troubled isles.
This morning the Council has become an international pariah and its members are being criticised almost as much as the gunmen who have taken the Prime Minister hostage in the Fijian Parliament.
Last night the "compromise" resolution the Council agreed to was communicated to Speight and his fellow gunmen. It is indeed a compromise, and in fact much more than Speight and his mates could have possibly expected to achieve.
Council chairman Sitiveni Rambuka says the council was "blackmailed" into its decision - the details of which are an offer of an interim government, amendments to the constitution, a recommendation to include the coup group in the interim government and a recommendation of a pardon to Speight and his gun wielding friends.
This says the NZ, Australian and US governments is completely unacceptable. And they are right it is unacceptable, but what else was the Council to decide to do?
The problem they face is simple. How to get the Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry - not to mention Ratu Mara's daughter - out of Parliament alive?
Speight meanwhile appears to be taking on the persona of the classic psycopathic would be dictator and has rejected the offer. His supporters have suggested that he should be offered the Prime Ministership himself - afterall, spokesman Joe Nata says, it was his actions that had led to the "necessary" - in his eyes - end to the Chaudhry government.
Meanwhile Mahendra Chaudhry and 33 others remain in mortal danger guarded it seems by a group of gunmen with the best training possible in the art of killing.
This morning negotiations resume again between the Chiefs and Speight, but it is very difficult to see any way out. It would appear the wisdom of Solomon is now required.
The dilemma faced by the Chiefs is particularly unpleasant. On the one hand they could agree to Speight's demands and ensure that Fiji becomes once again completely isolated in the international sphere - probably destroying its already weak economic base and isolating it on the Rugby field.
On the other hand they can stand up to Speight and risk turning what is already a disaster into a massacre with friends and family potentially on the shooting block.
A classic Hobson's choice.
Nevertheless - but admittedly not for any rational reason - Sludge is still anticipating a peaceful, bloodless, resolution to this impasse.
If This Was A Telemovie
If this week's Fijian Crisis had been written as a tele-movie - and no doubt once we know the ending the telemovie will follow shortly after - then it would have been quite different.
For a start when gun-wielding maniacs take the elected government hostage they are traditionally surrounded and cordoned off from the public by the police and army.
Sharp-shooters take up likely vantage points and track the gunmen through their telescopic rifle sights. A command room is set up with a Harrison Ford like figure in charge who is ultimately responsible for a decision to storm the compound using the words "you have a green light, go, go, go."
But that hasn't been the way of in this theatre of the real, or should that be surreal.
Certainly one of the most surreal aspects of this unfolding crisis has been the peculiar role of the media.
Media both local and international, have been George Speight's constant companions. Speight's every word is reported live around the world. One journalist from the University of the South Pacific even received a kiss from the coup leader and reported it. (Click on the picture above to read the account.)
This has had the effect of making the situation appear considerably less dangerous than it really is. Initially Sludge admits taking the view that this was kind of typical in Fiji and that because the Island nation had had a bloodless coup before then it was likely that this one would end up the same way. However this has not been the case.
Meanwhile the constant media coverage of Speight's every move has also had the unfortunate consequence of giving Speight and his fellow coup leaders some aura of normalcy - as if they are not in fact the kidnappers and terrorists that they are.
Here in New Zealand at the end of the phone Speight comes across as an articulate, literate individual with a fairly thorough - albeit completely twisted - understanding of constitutional law. His supporters, the reporters tell us, have created a carnival atmosphere at the Parliamentary compound.
For Mahendra Chaudhry however the experience has been quite different. This is definitely not a carnival. Nevertheless as a result of the constant coverage of Speight, Chaudhry as a figure in this crisis is being strangely marginalised, pushed into the background.
On balance Sludge reckons that the way in which the media has been able to be used by Speight during this crisis has been unfortunate.
It might have been better Sludge concludes if the tele-movie approach had been followed and Speight had been left isolated at the beginning.
Unfortunately, of course, it is not quite that simple.
We Haven't Yet Got To The Bottom Of Who Is Behind This!
Chief among the complexities to this crisis is its background -and not as many people have commented on its ethno-historical context - but in its murky and cloudy immediate pre-history.
Firstly it should be acknowledged that this crisis is occurring because all the people of Fiji are oppressed. A world trading system with the deck stacked against it has meant that poverty is all to real in Fiji. On top of that a series of recent cyclones and droughts has left the Fijian economy battered.
Secondly the Labour (read as Socialist) Mahendra Chaudhry government has not been particularly popular in recent months to its neighbours in NZ and Australia, as well as inside Fiji.
Chaudhry is accused of making mistakes now commonly in the media here in NZ. But from his perspective this is not what he did. Rather he was principled. He was tackling corruption, looking inside closets where he was not welcome and he found a few too many skeletons it seems.
It is now clear this coup has been brewing for months, according to Speight himself at least a year.
NZ and Australia unquestionably should and could have done more to try and avert this earlier. Why didn't they? Maybe Chaudhry seen as a potential troublemaker in the South Pacific Forum? Sludge doesn't know but it is a question that certainly deserves attention.
Thirdly Fiji like most Pacific Islands - coming as they do from tribal roots - has an inherently corruptible political system involving patronage and fealty - essentially the remnants of feudalism.
Also, just as it is in many other places all around the world (yes, New Zealand included) this political patronage takes the form of turning a blind eye to wrongs committed by powerful allies.
Mahendra Chaudhry didn't turn a blind eye to Speight, and on one level this coup is the price he is paying for bucking the system. This is clear not in the least because of the arson of the Hardwood Corporation head office. Someone is covering Speight's tracks. A very similar suspicious fire destroyed the office of the Companies and deeds registry in the Cook Islands shortly before the balloon went up on the Winebox.
That said, this is not as simple a matter as Speight getting revenge - even though saving his skin now seems to be one of his prime motivations.
Fourthly the coup is more widely supported than you would appreciate from most of the reporting
The reason Speight was given so much rope last weekend is that the consequences to President Mara of a crackdown - not only in relation to his daughter's life (What would Clinton do if a terrorist kidnapped Chelsea) - but in relation to his fellow chiefs, the Taukei movement, and within his own armed forces - were considerable.
Reports from Fiji canvassing this area of the power contest have been fairly sketchy, but a picture of what is really going on is emerging.
Speight is useful to others and, as has been reported, is probably not even be the actual coup leader.
Rambuka himself told Fijilive.com that the professional gunmen holding the compound are acting on the orders of a Colonel Ligiari, allegedly a former SAS trainer working for the UK army who had been recruited - by Rambuka - to head the Counter Revolutionary Unit of the Fiji Army.
As we have now seen, it seems that rather than suppressing the revolution, Ligiari decided instead to give it a hand to the extent of recruiting his soldiers to assist.
Meanwhile publicly Speight now accuses Rambuka and Mara of being traitors, and it does seem fairly obvious that Ligiari has probably fallen out with Rambuka by now. Whether he was encouraged initially by the leader of the 1987 coup is no doubt a matter of widespread speculation in Fiji.
Yesterday Fiji-live.com reported that Rambuka and Chaudhry met a week before the coup to discuss what should happen in the event there was some trouble.
They had decided on the appointment of a former head of the Fiji Reserve Bank as the head of an interim government if that was necessary.
We can probably therefore conclude that Rambuka was aware of the plan but that he couldn't stop it. And thus the plot thickens.
Sludge remains optimistic of a bloodless resolution of this crisis. However just how this might come about remains a complete mystery. A couple of possibilities do however flow from the analysis above.
1. That the resolution of this conflict is now largely in the hands of fate, and Colonel Ligiari.
2. That if the coup has backing outside Parliament then maybe the place to look for a resolution is also outside Parliament - that is if Speight and Ligiari are following anyones instructions, relying on anyones support, then whose?
2. That the time has come to start praying.
Sludge Report #7 - Compiled by C.D. Sludge - Friday, May 26, 2000
© Sludge 2000