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Fiji Insurgents Claim Control as Siege Continues

Politics: Authorities resume talks with gunmen holding premier, others hostage in Parliament. Emergency is declared.

May 20, 2000|From Associated Press

SUVA, Fiji — Heavily armed troops surrounded the Parliament building today in this capital, where insurgents holding government leaders hostage claimed that they were in charge.

Radio Fiji reported that the gunmen, led by Suva businessman George Speight, have threatened to shoot their hostages if attacked.

One hostage, Deputy Prime Minister Tupeni Baba, appealed to the government not to attempt a raid.

The developments came as authorities resumed direct talks with the seven masked gunmen who stormed Parliament on Friday, firing from AK-47 rifles before seizing Baba, Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and other officials. No one was reported injured.

Chaudhry is Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister. His year-old administration is the first to be dominated by Indo-Fijians, a fact that has angered some indigenous people in this South Pacific island nation. Ethnic Indians make up about 44% of the 813,000 people, and the majority Fijians 51%.

Speight said he had seized power on behalf of all ethnic Fijians. He announced today that he had been sworn in as interim prime minister and would rule by decree.

But it was clear that he had neither control nor influence outside the Parliament building. The military and civil authorities were backing Chaudhry's government and President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

On Friday, Mara declared a state of emergency.

The coup attempt coincided with a march through Suva of supporters of the nationalist Taukei Movement. The event escalated into riots when news of the siege broke. Police said 200 rioters were held.

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