|HOME | NEWS | REPORT|
May 19, 2000
India condemns Fijian coup attempt
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
India today condemned the coup in Fiji and asked for an immediate restoration of democracy in the tiny Pacific Ocean island nation.
A coup in the capital Suva saw Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and seven of his Cabinet colleagues being taken hostage by seven armed men.
"The Government of India has noted with deep dismay and regret reports about the attempted coup d'etat in Fiji," a statement by the external affairs ministry said. "We are following the developments in that country closely."
"We are deeply concerned about the safety of the prime minister and his Cabinet colleagues. We are disappointed that the democratic process in Fiji has received a setback and we expect an immediate restoration of the legitimately elected government," the statement declared.
"As a member of the Commonwealth, Fiji is party to the Harare Declaration and Millbrook Action Programme. In the CHOGM [Commomwealth Heads of Government Meet] communique of November 15, 1999, the heads of government 'renewed their commitment to the Commonwealth's fundamental political values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and good governance'. We call upon Fiji and other members of the Commonwealth to uphold the principles enshrined in these documents and act accordingly," the statement said.
The coup saw Fiji's first prime minister of Indian origin taken hostage by a group led by a native Fijian, George Speight. Speight and seven men entered the Parliament building in Suva where the government was celebrating its first anniversary and took Chaudhry and his colleagues hostage. Two gunshots were reportedly fired inside the building.
As soon as the coup was announced, business establishments downed shutters, but some looting took place in the capital.
But Fijian President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara denounced the coup as illegal and declared a state of emergency throughout the country. Details are still awaited about the role of the army in the coup. The Fijian army in 1987 had supported a coup led by Lt Col Sitiveni Rabuka, who had toppled a newly elected Indian-dominated coalition. In 1990, a new constitution favoring indigenous Fijians was introduced and Rabuka was named prime minister.
For now, it appears that the army is not involved in the coup and has come out on the streets to help the police maintain law and order, according to agency and Web site reports.
"I am asking those people who are now destroying properties and looting Suva to stop and go home and stay home," the president said in a broadcast on Fijian Radio.
The Indian government is seeking to exert pressure through the Commonwealth to ensure that the democratically elected government is restored. New Delhi has also taken a strong line against the coup in Pakistan which saw the military replace the Nawaz Sharief government.
According to agency and Web site reports, Speight is a businessman and the son of an opposition politician. He had earlier declared that he was taking control "on behalf of every individual member of the indigenous Fijian community".
Speight's father is a close friend of Rabuka, who was prime minister till exactly a year ago.
Fijian society is deeply divided between ethnic Fijians and the descendants of indentured labourers whom the British brought to this South Pacific island from India to work on sugar plantations. Ethnic Fijians comprise 51 per cent of the population and Indians about 44 per cent. But the Indians are the more prosperous lot, controlling businesses and plantations.
In addition to being prime minister, Chaudhry is minister for finance, public enterprise, sugar industry and public service.
The sugar industry is the mainstay of the nation's economy. The other major source of income is tourism.
Chaudhry's Labour government had recently come under fire from Fijian nationalists for its "pro-Indian policies".
Earlier this month, the government banned protest marches, saying police had warned that they might not be able to cope with such large-scale demonstrations.
But on April 28, several thousand Fijians rallied against the government in a march organised by opposition politicians of the former ruling Fijian Political Party, which Chaudhry's Labour Party had defeated in a May 1999 general election under a new constitution. Chaudhry's government had allowed the protest to proceed.
Since the election, there has been growing Fijian nationalist opposition to Chaudhry. Criticism centres mainly on attempts by the prime minister to persuade Fijian landowners to renew the leases on farmland held by thousands of ethnic Indian tenants who are at the core of his political support.
"The trouble is that most of the owners of the land are ethnic Fijians while the Indians are the tenants who cultivate the land on a lease basis. Most of the leases are due to expire soon and the Chaudhry government was keen that the leases be extended, something the Fijians were not keen to do," Amitabh Mattoo, a professor at the School of International Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, explained to rediff.com
He added that the island continues to be deeply divided between the two communities though there has been some reconciliation in recent times. "But the basic problem is over the land where the sugar plantations exist. The Fijians own them and want them back when the leases expire, while the Indians are worried about losing their tenancy rights," he said.
Mattoo pointed out that the Indians are also better educated and control more of the economy, adding to the divide.
SINGLES | NEWSLINKS | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL BOOKINGS
AIR/RAIL | WEATHER | MILLENNIUM | BROADBAND | E-CARDS | EDUCATION
HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | CONTESTS | FEEDBACK