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Former Attorney-Generals Defend Accused Rebels

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SUVA: A pastor, members of chiefly families, youths, 59 women and more than 300 men are among the 415 supporters of rebel leader George Speight who appeared in court yesterday or are expected to appear over the next few days, reports the Fiji Sun.

Two former attorney-generals, Apaitia Seru and Kelemeda Bulewa, are among the lawyers representing the accused.

Government Buildings, especially around the courthouse, were yesterday cordoned off from the public by tight police and military security as the first 40 supporters were brought from Nasese Police Academy.

Hundreds of family members gathered around the back of the courthouse to witness their sons, brothers and fathers being herded into the cell block from buses.

Their names were being called out as they stepped out of the bus with whatever belongings they had in plastic bags, knapsacks and mattresses.

The men were put into groups of 10 or so men as they were all charged with unlawful assembly with a view to disturbing the peace and causing instability if the new cabinet line-up did not go their way.

They appeared before Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo and Magistrate Aminiasi Katonivualiku in the Suva Magistrates' Courts.



All pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bail, the Fiji Sun said.

The bail depended on which magistrate they went to. In magistrate Temo's courtroom, they were granted $50 bail while magistrate Katonivualiku granted $100 bail.

The bail terms included appearing at the nearest police station three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

All were released on bail yesterday except for one who was charged with unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

Defence lawyer Bulewa challenged the charges, stating that they should be discharged under the immunity decree, which covers any criminal offences that fell between May 19 and July 13.

In other developments:

* The military said Speight and nine other rebels held on Nukulau Island, off Suva, were not likely to be released this week, according to the Fiji Times.

Police were still investigating and until inquiries were incomplete it was not known what charges the rebels would face.

* Nationalist rebel Iliesa Duvuloco is on the run from the military since the arrest of Speight and his men last week, the Fiji Times reports.

Duvuloco, a staunch supporter of Speight during the takeover of Parliament, has been missing from his Suva home and the military have issued mugshots of him at checkpoints.

* The Sukunaivalu Barracks in Labasa are back in military hands for the first time since rebels seized control earlier this month, the Daily Post reports.

The rebels, led by a former assistant information minister in the Sitiveni Rabuka government, Ratu Josefa Dimuri, had taken over the barracks in support of Speight.

* Some 14 Indo-Fijian families living in Dreketi, the rice bed of Fiji, on the second main island of Vanua Levu have been held captive by rebels, according to the Daily Post.

The newspaper reported that the rebels were holding about 150 people hostage.

A former resident was quoted as saying that Indo-Fijian homes were looted and people had been physically abused by the rebels.

"Some of the families have lost their vehicles at gunpoint to the rebels. They have taken guns that some farmers owned. Some of us have nothing much left to eat as all our vegetables were stolen and farms damaged," he told the paper.

+++niuswire

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