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Military commander claims support of Fijians

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SUVA: Fiji's interim Head of State and army chief, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, says he has the support of most indigenous Fijians and has brushed aside defiant statements by the rebel leader.

He also said today in radio interviews that he was not allowing rebel leader George Speight to "drive" the negotiations over the release of former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and 31 hostages held by gunmen at Parliament for the past 12 days.

Speaking on Fiji Television tonight, Commodore Bainimarama rejected statements by Speight saying that the military commander and his appointed head of the council of ministers, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, were not acceptable.

"I have the support of the vanua (indigenous people)," Commodore Bainimarama said.

He scoffed at Speight and his colleagues' claims seeking to be appointed to the interim military government "after holding guns to hostages".

"I don't think any of them are suitable as the prime minister of Fiji."

Commodore Bainimarama clarified that the amnesty would apply only to the kidnapping, not to the murder of a policeman on Sunday night.

He has deferred naming the rest of his council of ministers.

Speight had claimed that Bainimarama and Ratu Epeli would not advance indigenous rights in the country.

Ratu Epeli had been roving ambassador to the Pacific in the previous government.

The son of former Deputy Prime Minister Ratu Edward Cakobau, Ratu Epeli headed the military when Sitiveni Rabuka ousted the Labour-led coalition

government of Dr Timoci Bavadra in a military coup in1987.

He is married to Adi Koila, who was former Tourism Minister and is still

held hostage along with about 30 other members of the Chaudhry government. She is the daughter of the President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

Adi Koila was freed for a short period today to attend a funeral on condition that she rejoin the other hostages in Parliament.

Meanwhile, in the western tourist area of the main island of Viti Levu today there were demonstrations for the return to constitutional rule. One group in Nadi had a placard declaring: "Speight: Good for prison - not to be PM".

Columnist Sir Vijay Singh, a former Attorney-General before the 1987 coups, today hit out at the description "civilian coup" used by some media for the "perpetrators of the profanity in Parliament".

Writing in the Fiji Times, he was also critical of reporting of the rebellion as an an anti Indo-Fijian phenomenon.

"Nor is it correct to describe as a 'civilian coup' a malevolent enterprise that is executed and enforced with the aid of specially trained members of the military," he wrote.

"It is difficult to perceive a phenomenon of Fijian hopes in a coup that seeks to unseat from the highest office in the land one of the highest chiefs, with an unequalled record of service to the nation, and to defy the Great Council of Chiefs, Fijians' highest leadership institution."

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