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Drugs, Rape Claim In Parliament Siege

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SUVA: A woman who has escaped from being held captive at Fiji's Parliament claims she was gang-raped for four nights and that drug abuse is rife in the complex, according to media reports today.

Her allegations were reported by the interim military government as the Labour Department revealed that more than 2000 people have lost their jobs since the May 19 seizure of the elected government as hostages.

The Daily Post reported today that a Tailevu woman had claimed she was gang-raped for four consecutive nights while being held in the Parliament complex.

She was not one of about 30 government hostages who have been prisoners for three weeks.

The woman escaped earlier this week and reported to soldiers manning a military checkpoint.

Military intelligence officers said the woman claimed that "immoral activities such as group sex and drug abuse" were going on at the complex, according to the Post.

"The woman was clearly distraught when she arrived at a military checkpoint asking soldiers to take her home," an officer said.

"She said she was gang raped.

"She also told us that she was not the only woman subjected to these sexual activities."

The intelligence officer claimed that a group of men were "caught in the act" in the office of the Speaker of the House, "which is air-conditioned, carpeted and with various amenities", the Daily Post said.

Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, legal adviser to rebel leader George Speight, denied the allegations, claiming the "stories are a fabrication".

"It sounds to me like typical military propaganda to [paint] a bad picture of us," Ratu Rakuita told the Daily Post.

Meanwhile, figures collated from a Labour Department survey showed that top of the redundancy list was the garment industry with 684 workers laid off in the 48 factories surveyed.

Mark Halabe, president of the Fiji Footwear Clothing and Textiles Association, blamed what was described in the Fiji Times as a "massive decline" on the Fiji Trades Union Congress call for an international trade ban on the country.

Trade unionists have "rubbished" claims by the Fiji Employers Federation of a split in the ranks of the trade union movement over international trade reprisals against Fiji over the hijacking of the country's democratic system.

The FTUC accused the federation of making false claims to weaken their campaign for trade bans against the military regime.

A FEF statement yesterday said "leading figures" in the FTUC did not agree with the "hard-line" policy of general secretary Felix Anthony, according to the Fiji Times.

Fijian Aviation Workers Association general secretary Attar Singh said the FEF claim was "absolute garbage".

"My union is tourism based and thrives only on democracy and a stable political environment," Singh said, adding that all FTUC executives had taken part in the trade ban decision.

As well as redundancies, the Labour Department said employers had implemented other measures such as reduced hours, voluntary leave and rotational basis systems.

The survey would be updated on a weekly basis, the department said in a statement.

The hotel industry recorded 479 redundancies of the 31 hotels surveyed.

The furniture industry which relies heavily on overseas markets, lost 452 workers since the attempted coup day for the 13 companies surveyed.

This was followed by other manufacturers who laid off 405 workers from 33 factories.

In an editorial, the Fiji Times said: "The job loss statistics are alarming. And this is only the beginning."

Instead of blaming the Speight-led attempted coup for the loss of about 200 jobs a day, the newspaper pushed blame onto the unions.

"While the current political crisis is at the root of the problem, it is the trade sanctions imposed by the offshore trade unions which have worsened the economic situation," the editorial said.

"The bans have cut off the lifeline to the offshore market which allows local industries to continue their operations - and maintain their workforce."

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