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Sacked Government Leaders Protest Mara's Move

SACKED GOVERNMENT LEADERS PROTEST MARA'S MOVE
28 May 2000: 9.30am
Staff Reporters
USP Journalism Programme

SUVA: The sacked democratically elected Fiji cabinet has condemned the President's moves in trying to defuse the hostage crisis, saying it will challenge the rebels takeover of government in court.

President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara last night announced that he had dismissed the Fiji Labour Party-led coalition government and taken over control of the running of the country.

He also said he was considering granting immunity to coup leader George Speight and six others involved in leading the insurrection on May 19.

But Labour's Pratap Chand, Education Minister in the ousted government, said on Radio Fiji today Speight and his followers did not deserve an amnesty and the Labour Party would file legal action against the rebel group.

"This will encourage anybody who doesn't like policies to take over any government at gunpoint," he said.

Chand said the ousted government would challenge the President's moves.

Ratu Sir Kamisese said he hoped the rebels would now review their position and release the hostages as they were now no longer ministers and government MPs.

Elected prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry, deputy prime minister Dr Tupeni Baba and more than 30 former government members have been held hostage by gunmen in Parliament for eight days.

Yesterday, Ratu Sir Kamisese invoked section 106 of the 1997 constitution and appointed the Labour Minister in the elected government, Ratu Tevita Momoedonu, as acting prime minister in place of the captive Chaudhry and was advised to:


Dismiss all government members held hostage.

Take over control of the country with a caretaker government to be appointed.
Ratu Tevita then resigned and handed executive power back to the President.

Ratu Sir Kamisese said Parliament had been prorogued for six months to allow the President to take action to resolve the crisis.

But the President refused to bow to to the rebels' demands that he step down.

Reaction was mixed to the President's moves. The Sunday Times today gave cautious support, saying the President had few options to "save the country from further economic ruin and social unrest", while the Sunday Sun was more critical.

"Of course, [the President] is fully aware of the waves of resentment and diplomatic backlash from the international community as a result of the actions he has taken," the Sunday Times said.

"In his own words, it is a price the nation has to pay.

"But international and political observers have to carefully analyse his stand. Short of ordering the saecurity forces to forcibly secure the release of the hostages, which can only mean bloodshed, Ratu Sir Kamisese does not appear to have any other sensible and practical option. Not in the Fiji situation anyway.

Referring to the exchange of fire at Parliament yesterday when a television cameraman and two soldiers were wounded, the Fiji Sun said: "People were not the only things shot at".

"The constitution was also targeted and President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara tried to manoeuvre in and out and make things look acceptable by appointing Ratu Tevita Momoedonu to become acting Prime Minister, invoking section 106 of the 1997 constitution.

"But Pratap Chand has a valid complaint when he said this could 'effectively legitimise the overthrow of a constitutional and democratically elected government by a group of terrorists led by Mr Speight' ..."

"It's time for Mr Speight to do his part and let the people go, so life can go back to normal."

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