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Fiji coup - caught in the crossfire

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by Joe Yaya and Harry Aurere
USP journalism programme

* Yaya, a first-year student journalist from Fiji, and Aurere, from Papua New Guinea, report on how they got caught in crossfire at the besieged Parliament in Fiji's armed insurrection.

SUVA: We left the University of the South Pacific newsroom at 5.30 pm last night on our newspaper Wansolwara's next round-the clock shift covering the attempted coup - and flagged a taxi down at the main road. We told the driver to take us to Parliament.

At the first checkpoint, we were told by the police that they had just received an order not to allow any more journalists within a 100 metre radius of the parliament complex. We found out later that the order came from the President, Ratu Sir Kamiese Mara, who is concerned about the safety of both local and overseas journalists.

We pleaded with the police officers at the first checkpoint to let us through because we wanted to be in time for the 6 pm press conference. They refused and ordered the taxi driver to drive ahead to the second checkpoint, reverse the car and leave.

At the second checkpoint, we managed to convince police to let us through and we arrived at the back entrance of Parliament House at about 5.55 pm.

At that very moment, the gates opened and a man walked out shouting: "All media...all media...gather here please."

As we gathered around him, he issued us copies of a press release with the heading: TAUKEI CIVILIAN GOVERNMENT - Press Release No. 1. He then said: "Follow me to the gate please."

Upon reaching the gate, shots were fired from our right and we hit the ground for cover. A four-wheel drive vehicle sped from outside the gate and parked in front of it. By now, five men armed with M16 guns were in position from inside the gate defending it, while the rebel soldier who was escorting us took cover behind the vehicle parked in front of the gate.

About five minutes later, the rebel soldier behind the vehicle said: "Move in one by one to the gate guard house."

At the gate guard house, still in a crawling position, we had to show our ID cards to two men inside. Five minutes later, the man escorting us said: "OK everybody, up and walk in a single file."

We got up and walked in a single file to a shelter inside the Parliament complex.

Here, we were met by another man who introduced himself as Vilimoni. He welcomed us saying: "I apologise to you ladies and gentlemen for the inconvenience at the gate."

He then said: "I am the commander of security," and told us to wait for further instructions.

About 30 minutes later, self proclaimed prime minister George Speight walked up to where we were and the press conference began.

After we were escorted back outside, we met University of the South Pacific science lecturer Timoci Gaunavinaka who told us that he saw six soldiers in full military uniform at about 5.30 pm, carrying M16 guns at one of the checkpoints near parliament house.

Both coup leader George Speight and Fiji military forces commander Frank Bainimarama have denied that the shots were fired by them in today's Fiji Times.

This is the first incident where gun shots were fired since Friday morning, when civilian coup leader George Speight walked in to Parliament and took hostage members of the Fiji Labour Party-led coalition.


This document is for educational and research use only. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright source before reprinting. PASIFIK NIUS service is provided by the niusedita via the Journalism Program, University of the South Pacific. Please acknowledge Pasifik Nius:

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