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Chaudhry hits back at Kubuabola's 'foolishness'


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SUVA: Fiji's deposed elected Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry has challenged interim Information Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola over several attacks in the past few days, calling on the minister to "stop making a fool of himself" in public.

According to a people's coalition media release from Sydney today, Chaudhry said when leaving for New Delhi that the "world is watching Fiji" and wanted to see a constitutional and democractic outcome to the country's political crisis.

"Ratu Inoke has been prattling on for the last few days, whinging and moaning about the fact that I've been having talks with various prime ministers in the region," said Chaudhry, who was held hostage for 56 days by George Speight's rebels.

A number of groups have implicated Kubuabola in the Taukei Movement-led destabilisation and the May 19 coup and the Citizens' Constitutional Forum has called for a probe into the minister's alleged role.

Kubuabola was an alleged conspirator in the 1987 military coups by Sitiveni Rabuka.

"The substance of [Kubuabola's] comments has been his own claim that I have no mandate to speak for Fiji and that my visits are not official," said Chaudhry at Sydney airport.

"He is wrong on both counts, although being wrong has never stopped Ratu Inoke from making foolish comments in the past.

"My visits to Australia and India have been official - in both cases I was invited directly by the Prime Minister - Mr [John] Howard rang me within hours of my release from captivity and officially asked me to come to Australia for talks and a medical check-up.

"As for India, again it is an official visit via an invitation. New Zealand was no different.

"Later I intend to visit London for talks with Mr Don McKinnon, the Director-General of the Commonwealth, concerning his organisation's ongoing campaign to restore democracy in Fiji," said Chaudhry.

"As for a mandate - I refer to the results of the election last year - a huge majority for the People's Coalition and just eight miserable seats for Kubuabola's party, the SVT. The facts are - and they can't be reversed even by coups - that the People's Coalition was elected with a huge mandate last year and the SVT was rejected by the people.

"The world knows and understands what has happened in Fiji - what they want to talk about is how to return Fiji to constitutional rule. Every time that Ratu Inoke tries to cover this up with his prattling he makes himself look more foolish".

In other developments:

* The Fiji Sun reported that the coalition's deputy leader, Dr Tupeni Baba, had clarified local reports on the role of Rajendra Chaudhry, previously private secretary to his father in the ousted democratic government.

Dr Baba was reported to have said Rajendra Chaudhry was no longer working for the coalition - he was in Sydney, had plans to study law in New Zealand and was expected to start a new job in two weeks.

He added that there was no "government in exile" in Sydney or anywhere else.

* The Daily Post reported that the promised $52.8 million payout deal with landowners over the Monasavu hydro-electric dam had hit another snag yesterday after the Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) "admitted that it needed cabinet approval before any monies are exchanged".

The FEA also added that the cabinet approval would come only after its board endorsed the agreement.

This would mean that the money may not be paid out if the FEA board or cabinet vetoes the deal.

A statement from FEA said the agreement, which would see an initial "goodwill" payment of $5 million paid to the landowners would be scrutinised by the FEA board and the government.

Rebel landowners have held the Monasavu dam and the Wailoa power plant to ransom for almost six weeks, crippling industry and education in Suva with rolling two-hour blackouts.


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