Fiji military takes control

Fiji's military commander said yesterday he has imposed martial law to bring stability to the nation, which has been in crisis since rebels took the government hostage on May 19.

The army leader, Com. Frank Bainimarama, said troops would restrict access to the parliamentary compound where the insurgents are holding Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and more than 30 members of his government.

That would isolate the rebels from supporters who have been coming and going freely at the compound.

"I have ... assumed executive authority of the country, and henceforth declared martial law," Commodore Bainimarama said in remarks carried on Fiji Radio.

Although Bainimarama's military had expressed support for President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who has been running the country since the coup began 10 days ago, the troops had not done much.

That strategy changed yesterday, one day after a mob of people supporting coup leader George Speight killed a policeman and knocked Fiji television off the air. The military declared a 48-hour curfew at 6 p.m. local time Monday, and troops and police were out in force patrolling the streets of the capital, Suva.

The streets in Suva were largely quiet throughout the day after police advised people to stay home and schools to close.

Mr. Speight, a member of the Fijian majority, wants Mr. Chaudhry, Fiji's first prime minister from its ethnic Indian minority, removed from power and Indians barred from ever leading the country again. A former insurance salesman, Speight was fired last year by Chaudhry as chairman of two local companies involved in managing Fiji's lucrative timber trade. He had been appointed to both posts by the previous government.

The United Nations, and countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, have criticized Fijian forces for failing to crack down on Speight and his allies.

"We strongly condemn the repugnant, criminal actions of George Speight and his band of gunmen who continue to hold hostages in Fiji's parliamentary complex," the US Embassy in Suva said in a statement. "We reiterate our call ... that the hostages be released immediately and unconditionally."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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