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FIJI: Military tighten security in goldmine town

SUVA: Fiji martial law authorities have tightened security at the goldmining town of Vatukoula in the western side of Viti Levu to prevent explosives being smuggled out by supporters of rebel leader George Speight.

The Fiji Times reported today that security at military checkpoints at the township was tight.

All vehicles leaving the gold mines and surrounding districts and heading towards Tavua town were being checked.

"This is a security measure as dynamite can be smuggled out of the Vatukoula gold mines," the newspaper said.

The paper quoted military spokesman Major Henry Manulevu as saying that all vehicles were being checked as a security measure at the Vatukoula checkpoint.

Last week, explosives were found in the 19th level of Smith Shaft at the gold mines.

The discovery included 53 power gel packs, about 241 cords with detonators and about 24 cords without detonators.

Police are still investigating why the explosives were left there.

On Saturday night, supporters of Speight left the sanctuary of Parliament and set ablaze The Lighthouse restaurant on the scenic waterfront drive in Suva's suburb of Nasese.

"The Lighthouse was reduced to ashes as a payback by angry knife-wielding supporters," said the Fiji Sun today.

Restaurant owner Majorie Levaci, whose husband Sunia is a reserve officer with the Fiji Navy, said: "The sad thing is that [the rebels] used to come and ask for food and stuff from us and we'd give it to them."

Police are still investigating, but it is believed the attack, which destroyed the restaurant, was in revenge over the arrests by martial law authorities of four young men who were taken off a Parliament-bound bus at the Muanikau checkpoint.

The men were reported to be Speight supporters.

Meanwhile, radio FM96 reported today that a three-day peaceful march protesting against Speight's hijacking of democracy due to begin in Lautoka today was prevented from starting by martial law authorities.

It was reported that at least one organiser had been detained for questioning.

Organisers had expected up to 30,000 people from the "silent majority" to join the march to the capital Suva, calling for a release of the 31 hostages held by Speight's rebels in Parliament, a return to democratic rule, and for the abrogated 1997 multiracial constitution to be reinstated.

+++niuswire

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