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FIJI: Rebel leader gains more support

SUVA (Pacnews) -- Intense negotiations are underway in Fiji today as coup leader George Speight claims majority support from the country's chiefs, Pacnews reports.

Speight has reportedly secured the support of Ratu Josefa Iloilo, a high chief of western Fiji and who was until recently the country's vice president.

Ratu Josefa, together with the president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, lost their position when the military declared martial law and took over the running of the country on May 29.

Ratu Josefa has offered to meet Fiji's military commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama today during which he is expected to ask the military to hand-over power to a civilian government.

News reports over the weekend say Ratu Josefa and Speight met and agreed that the military should not run the country. Instead, Commodore Bainimarama and his military council should appoint a President who will then appoint an interim civilian government.

Speight has reportedly agreed that Ratu Josefa be offered the position of President while Speight's candidate for the high office, Ratu Jope Seniloli be offered the vice president's position.

Ratu Josefa spent the most part of this morning meeting Speight and his advisers at Ratu Josefa's residence in the capital, Suva. Aides say the western division chief was being briefed before he meets Commodore Bainimarama.

It is not unclear what the military's position will be, but the army commander has made it clear on several occasions that he would not hand-over power to a civilian government as yet.

He said the military would first like to see law and order restored in Fiji.

In another development, a planned march by civilians opposed to the ousting of the Mahendra Chaudhry government was called off today at the request of the military.

Organiser Ben Padarath, whose mother is one of the 32 hostages being held by Speight in the parliamentary complex, was taken by police for questioning.

Padarath had wanted protesters to march from the western city of Lautoka to the capital, Suva, a distance of about 400 kilometres.

Meanwhile, another part of Fiji has threatened to secede and form its own separate government.

The idea of turning the Tovata confederacy, a traditional grouping of provinces in northern and eastern Fiji, into a separate entity was raised at the weekend by a high chief in the area, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu. Ratu Naiqama was an opposition parliamentarian in the now dissolved parliament of Fiji.... PNS (ENDS)

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