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Four More Hostages Freed In Fiji Insurrection

23 May 2000: 6.30pm

By Losana McGowan, Reggie Dutt, Jese Temo and Jilda Shem

SUVA: Rebel leader George Speight today released four more hostages in the five-day-old Fiji Islands insurrection.

Freed initially were two physicians, Dr Prem Adhar and Dr Bhagat Ram, who were attending to the detained parliamentarians, and MP Michael Columbus.

It was not immediately certain why they were released.

Later, radio FM96 reported that a fourth hostage had been released, Labour MP Naresh Kumar.

Meanwhile, the entourage of the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, whisked past the heavily guarded gates of the Queen Elizabeth Barracks where the Great Council of Chiefs was being held about 4.30pm, while the other chiefs still lingered.

Catching the waiting journalists outside the gate unawares, the president's motorcade of four vehicles moved too fast for any media person to be able to ask him any question or take pictures.

Speculation was rife about why he had left early.

Earlier, Speight said he would not attend the council meeting but was expected to send two representatives.

Local radio FM96 reported that it was not known if he would send a written statement.

Speight's armed followers have been holding the elected Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, and his government hostage in the Parliament complex since Friday morning.

Ratu Mara, has cast doubt on the leadership future of captive Chaudhry once the hostages have been freed and constitutional rule is fully restored.

He was expected to speak at the special meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs this morning called to discuss the national crisis.

Ratu Mara said he was confident of majority support from the country's traditional chiefs at the sitting.

Speaking on television last night, he said: "I can't say that I will put back the government that caused all these problems." But he added that he would give Chaudhry an opportunity for a satisfactory compromise.

Ratu Mara said he would talk to the government held hostage by armed rebels in Parliament since Friday morning after the crisis was over and ask them to offer him a possible solution.

"What I intend to do is talk to them and say, 'You've seen what has happened. What is your possible solution for it?" he said.

"We will have a dialogue among ourselves as to what they want and what I think would be proper to resolve it," he added.

However, Ratu Mara said this did not mean he necessarily supported the resignation of Chaudhry.

As international reaction continued to condemn the insurrection, New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark called on the Great Council of Chiefs to show some leadership and "resolve to uphold the constitution and not undermine it".

"The clear message that New Zealand is sending is that Fiji's credibility is on the line here," she said.

Ms Clark said changing the constitution with the barrel of a gun was not an appropriate thing to happen.

One of rebel leader George Speight's gunmen was thrown out of Parliament complex last night after he lost his cool, shouting he has "a call and duty to perform".

The man was heard swearing and insulting police manning the nearby checkpoint about 9pm.

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