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Chaudhry Says No Elected Government Safe

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By Alison Ofotalau © USP Journalism Programme

SUVA: Deposed Fiji Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry says no elected government is safe in Fiji in a political climate that has already witnessed three coups in the last thirteen years.

In an interview with Tim Sebastian of the BBC World's current affairs programme "Hardtalk" last night, Chaudhry said multiracial democracy would have no chance of surviving while failed politicians resorted to criminal acts to regain power.

Chaudhry also said Fiji's military forces were "compromised" and an independent inquiry was essential to establish what actually happened in the wake of the first two military coups of 1987 and involvement by some soldiers in the May 19 coup.

"I can't say I trust the military. I don't think any government at any time can say that. Because of its past record...its [the military] got a reputation for being involved," he said.

Chaudhry also expressed disappointment with the military for returning law, order and security back to the country "too late" during the coup period.

"By then a lot of harm and damage have been done. Fiji's image in the international community has been tarnished. I think, had the military acted much earlier, things might not have been so bad."

Asked by Sebastian if he had taken any notice of the call by Interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase against his globe-trotting, Chaudhry said Qarase had no right to say that because he was only a military appointee and had no mandate from the people.

"He has not introduced any stability. Fiji is far from stability," said Chaudhry.

"The fact of the matter is, now that [rebel leader] George Speight has been charged for treason, the coup must be assumed to have failed and then you roll back things to pre May 19."

Chaudhry denied being on a global personal campaign to gather international support to get him back into office.

But he said it was all for the return of democracy to Fiji and that his government was the only elected government in Fiji.

When asked by Sebastian whether accusations of him being tactless and arrogant were true, Chaudhry said;

"That is not true. That is how my detractors tried to label me. The fact of the matter here is that I stood my ground both when I was in the Opposition and when in government," he said.

"And it is common practice in Fiji politics for one who stands his ground to be accused of being stubborn or tactless."

On the question that Chaudhry did not seriously take the unrest and protests that had been building for sometime, and the fact that some opposition Fijian politicians were calling for him to step down, Chaudhry said it was a question of getting advice from his Fijian counterparts in government.

"I was too busy with my job and I thought it was for the Home Affairs Minister, and the others in government to take care of those things."

But Chaudhry admitted that he should have been more cautious and taken appropriate action to curb the unrest.

When asked if he could have avoided his son's [Rajendra Chaudry] appointment as his private secretary to remove any appearance of nepotism, the deposed PM said his son was not appointed after he [Chaudry] was elected to office.

"How could I have removed him out of his job. After seven years (as administrative and research officer for the Fiji Labour Party), I think he's just entitled like anybody else for a fair go. Simply because he was my son, it doesn't mean that he should have put up with injustice - simply because his father won the election," he said.

Chaudhry dismissed being insensitive to indigenous Fijians on the land issue, saying he wasn't trying to get land away from the Fijians and that it was a propaganda campaign by the opposition to destabilise his government.

"Thats a fabrication. Anyone who knows about land laws in Fiji will know that, that cannot be done...No one can change the system unless the Fijians themselves agree."

It was on Hardtalk that Chaudhry first talked openly about how he was assaulted by rebels while being held hostage at Parliament.

He said the incident happened on the first Saturday of the takeover, when the seven gunmen who held him and his government colleagues hostage were trying to get them sign an agreement for their release and resignation.

"This was all pre-arranged....the gunman who was guarding me and my colleague - he suddenly disappeared," he said.

"Just then a group of youths appeared...there must have been eight of them or so. They were looking specifically for me and my son [Rajendra]. They took both of us out in different directions and roughed us went on for about ten minutes."

Chaudhry said he was assaulted and kicked - an act which resulted in a fractured rib on his left side.

Asked if he thought the thugs would kill him. He said: " Yes, that crossed my mind. Then suddenly George Speight appeared, rescued me from those men and took me back to the room...of course I was pretty shaken up and I had collapsed."

Chaudhry said he had forgiven George Speight for what was done to him personally. But he could not forgive Speight for what he had done to hundreds of innocent people in the Fiji Islands - particularly the burning, looting and physical abuse.

"That cannot be forgiven or forgotten. I think he's got to answer to those misdeeds."

Reacting to the programme, the Information and Communications Minister in the interim administration, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, accused Chaudhry of being a self-seeking, self-serving and power-hungry individual.

Quoted in the Fiji Sun, Kubuabola said: "Feebly, Mr Chaudhry blamed his Fijian Association Party's Minister for Home Affairs."

No comments were immediately available from the deposed minister, Joji Uluinakavadra as he was overseas.

However, his assistant minister, Gaffar Ahmed, told the Fiji Times that about 70 per cent of senior civil servants did not support the Chaudhry government.

"In fact, we played our part and were doing our best," he said.

Uluinakavadra is an officer in the Territorial Forces while Ahmed is a former police officer.


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