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Fiji Coup Leader, Governor Seek Agreement to End Army Takeover

May 19, 1987|From the Washington Post

SUVA, Fiji — The new military government of Fiji showed its first signs of unraveling, as the leader of Thursday's coup and the island's respected governor general Monday night worked to forge a face-saving compromise that could end the army takeover.

Governor General Ratu Penaia Ganilau told the nation in a radio address Monday night that the military leaders agreed that he could act as Fiji's chief executive. He added that his first order was to tell the regime "to dismantle its organization as soon as it is possible to assure public order," to restore press freedom, to release all arrested persons--including ousted Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra and his Cabinet--and "to withdraw to barracks all armed personnel not required for the maintenance of public security."

In an earlier broadcast, Ganilau told the people to stay calm and said, "I'm conducting discussions with the military government, and I am resolved to protect your best interest." He said later: "While these difficult discussions are in progress, my message as the leader of your nation, to you my fellow citizens, is be calm, keep the peace and retain your faith."

In a separate news release after Ganilau's radio speech, military authorities announced that the coup's leader, Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, had been sworn in by the governor general as chairman of the army-led council of ministers.

That strange announcement seemed to contradict the governor general's orders, and some observers here speculated that the swearing-in may have been a face-saving compromise for Rabuka, after his coup failed to attract either domestic support or international recognition.

"In terms of face-saving, it's possible to say we have a break in the impasse," said a Ministry of Information employee who has acted as official spokesman for the military regime. He confirmed that there were ongoing discussions with the governor general. "We've got the beginning of the dismantling of the coup." The spokesman added: "We want a path back to normalcy."

The spokesman's remarks came on the first day of a general strike that shut down most of the Indian shops and businesses in Suva and other large cities and cut bus and taxi service in half.

By nightfall Monday, the army still appeared to be firmly in charge, although fewer soldiers were visible and all troops had been removed from the governor general's mansion. But military authorities allowed Ganilau's radio address to be broadcast repeatedly.

Left uncertain Monday Monday night was timetable for Rabika to obey the governor general's order to release the prisoners and restore press freedom.

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