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FIJI: Renegade soldiers now face court-martial

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SUVA: Eight renegade soldiers in the Fiji Military Forces who are alleged to have helped coup plotter George Speight storm Parliament and seize the elected government hostage will now face a court-martial.

The prosecution withdrew the treason charges in Fiji's High Court today against the former soldiers of the elite Counter-Revolutionary Warfare Unit and they were transferred to military custody for court-martial.

A ninth was charged with an additional count of murder and returned to the makeshift island prison of Nukulau, near the capital of Suva.

Judge Daniel Fatiaki dismissed an application for habeas corpus by lawyers for Speight, who led the rebels in the seizure of Parliament on May 19. This has cleared the way for the treason trial to begin against him and 12 of his alleged ringleaders.

Radio Fiji said today that the court hearing was held amid tight security.

Pacnews reported that the hearing needed to be adjourned twice to allow Speight to consult his two local lawyers who were assisted by an Australian counsel, Marc Gumbert. Fiji's acting Director of Public Prosecutions was also assisted by three queen's counsel from Hong Kong, Gerard McCoy, Ray Pierce and Dr David Clarke.

The accused are due to appear in court again on October 25.

In other developments:

* The Fiji Sun reported today that the Fiji Consumers' Association called in a submission to an inquiry on allegations against Police Commissioner Isikia Savua that the police chief should also be tried for treason for his alleged role in overthrowing the elected coalition government led by then Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

The association said police activities showed that Savua was working with the rebels to oust the legitimate government of the day.

* Fiji's Blue committee hailed yesterday's "Blue Day" campaign in support of the 1997 constitution and for a speedy return to democracy as a success.

Facilitator Michelle Khan told the Fiji Sun that 75 per cent of the University of the South Pacific staff dressed up in blue, while 80 per cent of staff at other institutions, including the Forum Secretariat, wore blue.

She said the Fiji Employers' Federation had also reported strong support.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) was reported to have asked the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU) to lodge a complaint with the International Labour Organisation against the Public Service Commission for banning civil servants from wearing blue.

This was a violation of the basic right of freedom of choice of clothing and freedom of expression.

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