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Fijian Vice President Is Indicted

Jope Seniloli is the highest-ranking official to be charged for his role in a 2000 coup.

May 08, 2003|From Associated Press

SUVA, Fiji — The vice president of Fiji was charged today with involvement in the nationalist coup that toppled the South Pacific nation's democratic government three years ago.

Police security was tight around a courtroom in the capital, Suva, as Jope Seniloli arrived to be formally charged with taking unlawful oaths to commit a capital offense and to engage in sedition.

Both charges carry a maximum penalty of death, although the country is in the process of repealing capital punishment and no convicted prisoners have been executed in recent years.

Seniloli appeared in court with the minister for youth, sports and employment, Sireli Leweniqila; two former lawmakers in the overthrown government, Peceli Rinakama and Viliame Volavola; and Fijian nationalist Viliame Savu, currently serving a prison term for another coup-related conviction.

None of the defendants was required to enter a plea, and none made any public comment.

Seniloli's charges relate to his being sworn in as president by an illegal Fijian nationalist regime installed immediately after the coup, which was led by failed businessman George Speight.

Speight is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty last year to treason.

Seniloli is the highest-ranking government official to face coup-related charges.

There had been fears that charging Seniloli could trigger renewed ethnic unrest between indigenous Fijians, who make up just over half the nation's 820,000 people, and ethnic Indians, who account for about 44% of the population.

The four defendants not currently serving prison time were released on $5,500 bond and ordered to surrender their passports to the court.

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