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Fiji Sun Slams Rebel Threats

SUVA: The Fiji Sun today condemned threats by George Speight's rebels over the composition of the cabinet line-up announced by interim President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, saying the country cannot afford to "go through hell" again.

But the two other national daily newspapers, the Murdoch-owned Fiji Times and the government-owned Daily Post, were more cautious in their response to the appointed interim cabinet list broadcast on Fiji Television last night.

Two of Speight's key rebel colleagues and three Taukei Movement backers and alleged coup conspirators were named in the interim government expected to be sworn in today, along with two ministers in deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's elected coalition government.

One Indo-Fijian was named among the 32 ministers and associate ministers - George Shiu Raj, who was elected as an independent MP in Rakiraki but aligned himself to the indigenous SVT Party founded by former Fiji coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka. The SVT was defeated in the 1999 election and was the only opposition party in the ousted Parliament.

Laisenia Qarase, appointed interim prime minister by the military regime which has now relinquished executive authority, has been retained as head of government along with his deputy, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, a former military commander.

Former Opposition Leader Ratu Inoke Kubuabola was named as Works and Energy Minister.

Apisai Tora, leader of the Taukei Movement, which led the period of destabilisation leading up to the insurrection, was was offered the Agriculture, Fisheries, Forests and ALTA Minister portfolio, and another Taukei supporter, Adi Finau Tabaukaucoro, was named Assistant Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

Ratu Tu'akitau Coakanauto, who led the rebel faction of the Fijian Association Party, was given the Local Government, Housing and Environment portfolio.

The Fiji Times reported that the total salary bill for the administration would cost the country $3.5 million over its two-year term - "the biggest salary bill in the history of Fiji's cabinet if they followed the current wage guidelines".

Taxpayers would be paying $1,844,654 for a year's salary - $337,682 more than Chaudhry's cabinet, and more than $500,000 more than that paid out annually for Rabuka's line-up.

Questioning the appointment of Speight's deputy, Ratu Timoci Silatolu (Assistant Minister for Health), and Simione Kaitani (Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Multiethnic Affairs), the Fiji Sun highlighted the rebel threats and Silatolu's statement that "sacrifices" would be needed in the choice of ministers in the interim government.

"Now is this the setting of a new beginning for this country?" the Fiji Sun asked.

"We cannot forget the fact that the threat of international sanctions remain.

"These threats will be realised with the inclusion of rebel members in the interim government.

"Are we prepared to accept that?

"Can this country afford to go through hell again?

"The rebels are demanding inclusion in the government. Even to the extent that they are prepared to allow this country to continue to head towards economic ruin, and political isolation."

Concluding with a direct appeal to Speight, the Fiji Sun's editorial said: "George, there are more than 5000 unemployed people on the streets. More are expected to join that number in the event of an international sanction.

"In the end, George, you are the man!

"Can you take care of the indigenous people?

"Do you really care for them?"

The Fiji Times said the President had "raised a lot of eyebrows" by announcing a "bloated and racially weighted" interim cabinet.

"First, the inclusion of George Speight sympathisers in the line-up is wrong. There should be no place for them in the interim government.

"Second, at a time when every practical measure is needed to cut and control public expenditure, he burdens the taxpayer with a colossal salary bill...

"Third, out of 32 appointments, there is only one Indian who may not even sit in cabinet because he is an assistant minister. It is unfair to have half the population under-represented."

The Daily Post was far more conciliatory, saying: "The destiny of Fiji now rests in the hands of Ratu Iloilo and his [appointed] prime minister Laisenia Qarase. Both are men of goodwill ...

"Let us all unite and help Ratu Iloilo and Mr Qarase rebuild our country."


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