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FIJI: Chaudhry says coup took Fiji back 20 years


FIJI: Chaudhry says coup took Fiji back 20 years

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[FIJI] THREE YEARS ON http://www.fijilive.com

SUVA (FijiLive/Pacific Media Watch): Former Fiji Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry - deposed in the May 19, 2000, attempted coup - says the political upheaval has taken Fiji back two decades with rising crime and a collapsing economy.

He gave his views in an interview with the Daily Post marking the third anniversary of the rebellion. The Post reported:

Today is three years since the May 19 coup took place.

Nobody can deny that people were deeply hurt by it, some physically, some materially and some emotionally. The scars of its impact remain even today in the form of the rising unemployment rate, poverty, crime and cost of living in the country. National leaders at the centre of the political stage say a lot still needs to be done to take Fiji forward.

Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase is optimistic about giving Fiji a much better future in the coming years. Labour leader Mahendra Chaudhry believes the May 19 coup of 2000 took the country 20 years back and he cannot see a bridge in that gap overnight. Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes says Fiji is at a standstill, and it will be in decline.

"By standing still, we are slipping back" Beddoes said.

The Prime Minister yesterday said the country has come a long way since May 19, 2000. He said the law and order situation had improved since then. "Our economy has picked up since then. Our performance is better than many other economies in other developing countries but there are still some serious problems which we need to address.

"The question of unemployment and having more foreign investment remains an issue," Qarase said.

"But I am an optimist and my Government has set targets relating to these issues and we hope to achieve them in the coming years."

Chaudhry, however, believes the economy is not doing all that well and ordinary people are getting poorer day by day. "The May 19 coup has set Fiji 20 years back. The economy is rapidly declining. The sugar industry which has remained the backbone of Fiji¹s economy is on the verge of collapse; there is a hike in the crime rate; there is rampant corruption in both public and private sectors and the unprecedented level of unemployment is plunging Fiji into great depths of poverty," Chaudhry said.

The Labour leader said people were still paying a price because of the coup and they would continue to do so if no genuine efforts were taken to make a difference. Beddoes said the only way Government could genuinely help Fiji fight these pressing economic and social problems was by taking a more inclusive approach.

"Fiji is a house and what the Government is doing is only using half the foundation-stones and half is not used. What I mean is that the Government should involve all of us in their exercise of nation-building," he said.

"And it is the aspirations of all people that the Government must meet, irrespective of race, ethnicity or religion."

He said leaders needed to work together. The issue of bringing the coup-plotters to justice was another area of concern. He said the investigation has gained momentum and he welcomed it. But much more still needed to be done to unveil the top ranking officers and businessmen, who were hiding away. "Bring back Lieutenant Colonel Viliame Seruvakula and put him under oath and get the names of those who plotted the coup and those who funded it. The diplomats who have been implicated should come forward and clear their names," he said.

"Its three years now and there are a number of big sharks who had a hand in the coup, are still moving around freely. They must be brought to justice. The whole country paid a price for it and suffered."

The May 19 coup had had a devastating impact on the people, Chaudhry said.

More than 16,000 people had emigrated overseas since May 2000, most Indo-Fijian. The competitive job market was causing increased stress levels among younger people, forcing some towards suicide and substance abuse and the number of school dropouts and beggars are on the rise.

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