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Qarase Refuses To Talk In Reconciliation Row

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QARASE REFUSES TO TALK IN RECONCILIATION ROW

http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/docs/news/wansolnews/wansol2308017.html

By ATERINA SAMASONI: August 24, 2001


Wansolwara Online (USP)

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): Fiji's caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase last night refused to talk about reconciliation in a heated debate on live television before the nation, even though this had been one of his major election platforms.

He was asked to respond to comments by nationalist Metisula Mua, leader of the Conservative Alliance, when he hedged over questions about an apology to two hostages in last year's attempted coup - deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and breakaway New Labour Party Unity leader Tupeni Baba.

But Qarase refused to reply during the two-hour debate of seven prime minister contenders on Fiji Television.

"Can we move on to another useful subject than this, we're wasting time on it," he said.

Qarase had been asked by moderator Richard Naidu to respond to Mua, former head of the disbanded Fiji Intelligence Service and leader of the Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua, who had criticised Qarase's reconciliation efforts.

"With due respect to the caretaker prime minister, I don't think they have been successful with reconciliation," Mua said.

Qarase tried to dismiss the subject.

But Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei (SVT) leader Filipe Bole broke in sharply, saying: "I certainly disagree."

"I find it very difficult that even Mr Mua can't offer the word 'sorry' to people who were roughly handled and lost their jobs in Parliament," Bole said.

Chaudhry and Dr Baba expected a personal apology from Mua, who was implicated in the 56-day hostage crisis.

"He should also be apologising to the people of Fiji, and to the many thousands of people who have lost their jobs, to the many industries that have closed - and the many investors who have turned their backs on Fiji," Dr Baba said.

Chaudhry said: ''All those who were responsible for the event of May 19 last year owe an apology to the whole nation for they have done incalculable harm to the future of this nation".

However, Mua said reconciliation using Fijian protocol carried a lot of weight.

"If I have to do it, I will have to follow the Fijian protocol. That is left to our supporters. They're out there waiting. All they need is the initiative to step forward and say sorry.

Former colonel Mua, who was seen with George Speight at Parliament during the hostage crisis, was questioned by TVNZ reporter Ewart Barnsley.

He asked Mua that as the former intelligence chief now sat with two men who were overthrown at gunpoint, what did he have to say to them.

Mua said that although they had differences on several issues he still respected them.

The often tense prime ministers debate - which also included Fiji Association Party(FAP) leader Adi Kuini Speed and National Federation Party (NFP) leader Attar Singh - also featured other wide-ranging issues.

The leaders were asked by Fiji TV reporter Imraz Iqbal of their plans for the multimillion dollars mahogany forest industry.

They also debated the issue of cooperation in government if it was to be led by a Indo-Fijian Prime Minister.

At once stage, the debate broke into bitter mudslinging between the leaders with Bole accusing Qarase of "fabrication" of a pact between Chaudhry's Fiji Labour Party and the SVT, while Chaudhry accused Dr Baba over alleged forgeries of Vanuatu bank statements.

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