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NEWSFLASH: Ratu Mara Dismisses Government

Fijian President Ratu Mara has dismissed the Labour Government of Fiji led by Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry who remains a hostage within the Fijian Parliamentary compound held by a group of gunmen.

While earlier this evening it appeared the decison of Mara - which he said he took with great regret - would resolve the crisis, later in the night a spokesman for George Speight rejected the move as insufficient even to allow the release of "good faith" hostages. reported at 9.15pm, quoting the gunmen's PR officer Joe Nata, saying George Speight and his group remain insistent the the President be dismissed and the constitution thrown out.

Meanwhile the Fijian Labour Party has condemned Mara's move saying it is unconstitutiona anywayl. Mara, for his part, maintains his actions are very near the line of being unconstitutional, but are within that line.

George Speight's decision to reject the offered resolution came in spite of a "guarantee" from the President of pardons for any criminal conduct by the hunmen during the kidnapping of the Prime Minister and other hostages over the past nine days.

Ratu Mara is expected to appoint a new Prime Minister as early as Monday and has in the interim assumed all Governmental authourity himself, "in the absence of a functioning Cabinet".

In a press conference at Government house this afternoon, Ratu Mara said he would appoint a new PM and a council of ministers on Monday. The new PM will be chosen from the existing MPs.

On the constitution, Mara said it will be amended to fit in demands made by coup leader George Speight. He said the dissolution of parliament should lead to an early release of the hostages held by Speight.

"I am saddened at having to do this," said Mara, adding that "Fiji will suffer when the rest of the world realises this is the course of action I have taken."

Mara said he was particularly concerned about Australia, Fiji’s major trading partner, and New Zealand.

"I have been warned we will be on the bottom of the pariah list of countries"

Mara said he would not bow to Speight’s demands for him to step down as he has the support of the chiefs, the military, the police and the civil service. "There are 400,000 Fijians. I believe I have the majority support."

Technically Mara beleives he is within the constitution because he first swore in a new Prime Minister Ratu Tevita, who then asked him as President and Head of State under Section 99 of the Constitution to dismiss the Parliament.

One of the leading cases in this area of the law relates to the actions taken by Mara during the 1987 coup. That case went all the way to the Privy Council.

TRANSCRIPTS FROM and the Latest from USP -

Speight rejects Mara's plan
New PM by Monday?
Momoedonu Aids Mara - How Mara Says He Is Within The Constitution

Speight rejects Mara's plan

Coup leader George Speight has rejected President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's plan to put an end to the hostage situation.

Speight's Special Advisor Jo Nata told the media a short while ago that they don't agree with what Mara has offered them. Nata's announcement came almost simultaneously with Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's Labour Party also rejecting Mara's moves.

Earlier today, Mara sacked the People's Coalition Government and said he was considering providing amnesty to Speight and his group of six other men who stormed Parliament over a week ago and took government members hostage at gunpoint.

Nata says Mara's plan does not address their request. Speight is demanding that Mara step down as President and that the 1997 Constitution be abolished.

Asked if any hostages will be released in good faith, Nata said he didn't think so because "the others were not acting in good faith".

New PM by Monday?

Time : 27/05/00 - 7.30 pm

 The President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara may appoint an interim prime minister by Monday.

The appointment will be made from within the existing members of Parliament.

This follows today's dismissal of government members and the prorogation of Parliament.

Mara is also considering immunity for Speight and six others who were instrumental in the initial takeover of Parliament.

"The reason I have been slow in coming to a decision is that I want to be absolutely ceratin that we are within the Constitution. We may be right on the edge but still within," Mara said.

Labour rejects Mara plan
Time : 27/05/00 - 8.35 pm

The Peoples Coalition government has insisted that no settlement outside the constitution is acceptable to them.

The statement came after Labour Minister Ratu Tevita Momaidonu accepted Ratu Mara's proposal of appointing and acting Prime Minister and suspending the government for six months.

The Statement read:

"The People's Coalition government understands that Ratu Tevita Momaidonu has agreed to the proposal of the President.

Governments position of rejecting the proposal was made clear to Ratu Tevita. It was also communicated to the President's office well in advance of the presidents press conference this afternoon

Ratu Tevita had absolutely no mandate to make a commitment on behalf of the government.

Accordingly any agreement entered into by him on a personal basis has no authority, legitimacy or validity.

It in direct breach of the official position of the government.

The president's proposal was rejected by the government on the grounds that it was clearly intended to pave the way for the dismissal of the Prime Minister, the dissolution of Parliament and the establisment of an alternative appointed government.

The government made clear to the President that it could not accept such a proposal because it would effectively legitimise the overthrow of a constitutionally and democratically elected government by a group of terrorists.

The Peoples Coalition government maintains that any action that has been taken by the president since the swearing in of Ratu Tevita as Prime Minister is therefore unconstitutional.

We insist that no settlement outside the constitution is acceptable to us."

The statement was signed by Education Minister Pratap Chand & Labour Party spokesperson Jokapeci Koroi

Momoedonu Aids Mara - How Mara Says He Is Within The Constitution

Time : 27/05/00 - 7.05 pm

The President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, appointed an acting Prime Minister to aid in his prorogation of Parliament and dismissal of the government.

Chaudhry government Minister for Labour and Industrial Relations, Ratu Tevita Momoedonu, of Vuda was appointed Prime Minister by Mara and resigned after asking the President for a prorogue - discontinuing of the Parliament sitting without dissolving it. "Thus buying time for me to set things in order," said Ratu Mara.

Under this scenario, the President also had the option of dissolving Parliament.

Ratu Tevita, in his capacity as acting prime minister, also asked the President to dismiss all members of government under section 99 (1). This let the President "with a clean slate to appoint a caretaker prime minister or other adviser".

Ratu Tevita was appointed acting prime minister under Section 106 of the 1997 Constitution and gave his advice for prorogation of Parliament under section 108. He tendered his resignation after advising the President of the dismissal and prorogation. "…to enable me to retain unfettered executive authority to govern the country in the absence of a prime minister or a sitting Cabinet," Ratu Mara said.

This effectively, and constitutionally, makes the President the sole authority in Fiji.



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 Cameraman, Two Soldiers Wounded In Gunfire
Saturday, 27 May 2000, 5:32 pm
Article: Pacific Media Watch - Pasifik Nius

Cameraman, Two Soldiers Wounded In Gunfire

27 May 2000: 3.30pm

Alison Ofotalau, Salesh
Kumar and Isikeli Sauliga :
USP Journalism Programme May 27:

SUVA: A foreign cameraman, a Briton attached to Associated Press television news service, and two soldiers were taken to hospital today after being wounded in a shooting incident at a military checkpoint near the Parliament complex.

A Pacific Journalism Online reporter on the scene - a checkpoint opposite the Suva Grammar School, near Parliament - named the APTN cameraman as Jerry Hamer.

Hamer and the soldiers were reported to be in stable condition.

In an interview with Fiji Television, Hamer's colleague said the cameraman was "not serious. - just hurt in the arm. Not life-threatening at all."

A FM96 report quoted sources at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital saying the cameraman was injured in his right arm.

One of the soldiers was reportedly shot in his upper arm while a second was shot in the leg.

Another foreign cameraman, not identified by the television station, was standing next to Hamer when the incident happened and gave an account of what happened.

"Basically, there was a group of supporters who were brought by one of the gunmen. They marched outside the gates, breaking up the military checkpoints, stopping food and supplies from coming in," he said.

"Soldiers were firing in the air. I saw one soldier firing at the crowd and it just got crazy for about two minutes.

"One of the APTN cameraman got shot and they marched down to the tents, broke up the barbed wire and walked back. One of the APTN photographer saw the bullet go through."

Pacific Journalism Online reporter Isikeli Sauliga said about 10 soldiers were outnumbered by 200 gunmen and supporters who wanted the roadblock dismantled.

The troops fired two warning shots in the air and further shots were apparently fired by the rebel group, reporter Isikeli Sauliga said.

The rebels then uprooted tents, barbed wire, iron barriers and "crocodile teeth" vehicle barriers from the the roadblock and carried them to the Parliament complex.

The incident happened before midday and there blood stains were splattered on the road near a checkpoint opposite the Suva Grammar School, near Parliament.

Military commander Commodore Frank Bainimarama expressed his concern and said his men were shot at by rebel leader George Speight's gunmen.

Commodore Bainimarama reaffirmed the army's support for President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who is also the commander-in-chief.

Speaking to journalists at a media conference this afternoon, Commodore Bainimarama said the army was not split over the hostage crisis.

Commodore Bainimarama confirmed that a small group of dissidents joined Speight's group yesterday.

Commodore Bainimarama said the group, including Major Josefa Savua and Ilisoni Ligairi, would be discharged from the army.

He told journalists that it was unfortunate that some members of the elite Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit through "blind obedience" followed orders that never came from the military headquarters.

* The elected government of the Fiji Islands has reacted with alarm to the chiefs' proposals to resolve the week-old hostage crisis, branding the resolutions as "unconstitutional".

It has again demanded the immediate release of the 32 hostages, including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, who have been held prisoner by gunmen in Parliament since last Friday morning.

The majority of the hostages, 17, are indigenous Fijians.

"The call for the dissolution of an elected Parliament and the appointment of an interim government are unequivocally unconstitutional," said acting leader of the Fiji Labour Party-led "people's coalition" government, Ratu Tevita Momoedonu.

"They are therefore absolutely unacceptable to the party, just as they are to the people of Fiji and the international community.

"There cannot be any political solution negotiated while the elected government, including the prime minister, remain in captivity."

He said international constitutional experts had made it "abundantly clear" that the President's powers did not extend to the replacement of the democratically elected government and prime minister in the way proposed.

In addition, the constitutional powers of the Great Council of Chiefs did not extend beyond appointment of the President and 14 members of the Senate, he said.

Ratu Tevita also said a delegation of the elected coalition government held talks with Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon and the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, on Wednesday.

"The strong and unwavering positions taken by both organisations in relation to the actions of the terrorist group led by [George] Speight is a source of great encouragement," Ratu Tevita said.

* The UN Secretary General, Koffi Annan, said his representatives had warned the chiefs that the Security Council would act if Fiji allowed the racially-motivated coup to succeed.

"And (we) did indicate to them that the international community and the UN will not accept a military takeover in Fiji - and we are living in an era that this sort of behavior is not going to be tolerated - and tried to dissuade him," he said.

"From developments obviously they haven't succeeded and I'm expecting a detailed report from Mr Sergio De Mello."

* Both Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer condemned the chiefs for bowing to "an act of terrorism" in Fiji.

Radio Fiji quoted Downer today as saying the resolutions offered to rebel leader Speight were "foolishness".

"The last thing the Great Council of Chiefs should be doing is caving into an act of terror," he said.

* New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister, Phil Goff, has appealed to Fijian authorities to bring in outside negotiators to end the country's hostage crisis.

Goff said Fiji's first priority must be to free Prime Minister Chaudhry and his ministers.

The Foreign Minister said New Zealand has offered Fiji's Police Commissioner, Isikia Savua, its experience and expertise in police negotiations, but that had been declined.

Goff warned there had to be negotiation or the lives of the hostages would be jeopardised.

New Zealand has consistently ruled out an armed response to the crisis.

* Yesterday afternoon, armed soldiers were forced to back off in an ugly stand-off with rebel gunmen outside the Parliament grounds.

The gunmen were aggressive in confronting the soldiers to allow supporters in defiance of a ban on any more people going through the barricades.

According to the Fiji Times today: "One of Speight's men grabbed a soldier by the collar, jabbed him in the chin and began pushing the 14 armed soldiers around.

"The soldiers were outnumbered and the crowd, which could have turned into a lynch mob, started to close in."

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