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July 22, 2000
Tribal power behind Fijian coup emerges
A diplomat and grand-daughter of Fiji's 19th century 'king' emerged on Saturday as a key player in the coup in Fiji, which is aimed at setting up an apartheid state.
As Britain became the latest country to announce sanctions against the Pacific Ocean island-nation, local media reported that the country's high commissioner to Malaysia, Samanunu Cakobau, was coup leader George Speight's candidate for prime minister.
Cakobau's support for Speight has sharpened divisions in the country with her Bau tribe at odds with other provinces.
Several observers have warned that the Pacific nation could disintegrate into civil war.
Speight told The Fiji Sun newspaper on Saturday that he wanted interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to step down and Cakobau to take over.
Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Epeli Nailatikau told Saturday's Daily Post that Cakobau's emergence showed the coup was really a naked grab for power by one tribal group.
"Now the truth has come out," he said.
Fiji has been in chaos since May 19 when Speight and a handful of special forces soldiers seized and deposed the elected government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.
Speight said he was acting in the name of indigenous Fijians and demanded that government be reserved for ethnic Fijians.
After most of his demands were met and plans set out for a state based on racial exclusion, Speight released Chaudhry and his ministers after 56 days in captivity in the parliament building in Suva.
Since then he has blocked the formation of a new administration with threats of civil war, saying he was unhappy with its make-up.
As negotiations over the government continue between Speight, the leaders of the proposed government and the army, a yawning power vacuum has developed in Fiji.
Known in Fiji as 'Adi' Samanunu for her status as chief, Cakobau is granddaughter of Ratu Seru Cakobau, paramount chief of Bau and widely seen as the king of Fiji, who ceded the country to Britain in 1874.
Because of her status at the head of one tribe, Cakobau is unlikely to be a popular choice for leader.
Fiji's new President Josefa Iloilo warned, meanwhile, that continued sharp divisions among ethnic Fijians vying for power were endangering national unity.
"The Fijian people themselves, in the various vanua (clans), have become divided," he said. "This national objective of forging one nation will not be possible if Fijians begin to break up into separate groups based on provincial and other allegiances."
Permanent Secretary of Finance Savenaca Narube, meanwhile, warned the economy would contract by 15 per cent because of the coup.
He said 7,000 people had already lost their jobs and a loss of investor confidence could easily see over 20,000 more unemployed as well as irreparable damage to key industries like tourism and clothing.
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