SUVA, Fiji — Military coup leader Sitivene Rabuka vowed Saturday to prevent Indians from ever assuming political power again in Fiji, and Indians shuttered their shops and gathered in crowds to protest the takeover.
Lt. Col. Rabuka said earlier that he led the bloodless seizure on Thursday to stop fighting between ethnic Fijians and Indians after the April 11 election, which led for the first time to an Indian-dominated government.
On Saturday, the 38-year-old career soldier, a Fijian, told a news conference that the takeover would "safeguard Fijian land and protect the Fijian way of life." He said a new constitution will be written to guarantee Fijian supremacy in this South Pacific island nation about 1,500 miles east of Australia.
Indians, who slightly outnumber Fijians, can play an economic role in Fiji, Rabuka said, adding that they are also free to leave.
"The British left India," he said.
On Saturday, Indian crowds gathered outside the prime minister's residence in the capital of Suva, where Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra and 27 of his Labor government colleagues remained under house arrest.
Five military trucks were used to push the crowd of about 750 chanting demonstrators back from the building when they refused an order to disperse, a correspondent at the scene said.
The vehicles lined up side by side and slowly forced the protesters about 1,300 feet back from the residence, said James Shrimpton. The crowd then was allowed to sit down and continue its protest. No injuries or violence were reported.
Rabuka's soldiers, in full battle gear, guarded government buildings and two newspaper offices closed by the military.
Bavadra's family members told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Saturday that they smuggled out a letter from Bavadra which would be sent to the New Zealand and Australian governments seeking their help. Both governments said Saturday through official spokesmen they had not yet received the message.
Rabuka has pledged to release Bavadra and his ministers after drafting a new constitution and calling elections, but he has not given any timetable.