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Fiji's coup history

Published: 7:24PM Monday December 04, 2006 Source: One News

Fiji's latest coup, spearheaded by military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama, marks the Pacific Island nation's fourth coup in nearly 20 years.

Fiji's first takeover took place on May 15, 1987 when Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka and his men charged into parliament and took control.

The coup left the new coalition government of Timoci Bavadra, with a large Indian membership, suddenly out of power.

Four months later, Rabuka staged a second coup, declared himself the country's leader and announced Fiji as a republic.

A driving force behind Rabuka's coups, and a third coup in 2000, was hostility between indigenous Fijians and the Indians who outnumbered them.

"Ethnicity was rather more explicit then. And again it was also it was a 2000 when Mahendra Chaudary's government was pushed out by George Speight," says Pacific Islands historian Hugh Laracy.

Unlike the current coup, which has the backing of the Fijian military, Speight led a rag-tag mob of armed militiamen in his charge for power.   
The army was forced to stand by as Speight had himself sworn in as prime minister by a pliant President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

He then proclaimed co-conspirator Ratu Jope Seniloli as president in place of Mara, at which point Mara made a sudden resignation and handed his power to the commander of the military, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

During his storm to power Speight took Chaudary and 35 other MPs hostage.  He released them 73 days later and the army seized control.  Speight was arrested and charged with treason.

But just four months later, soldiers in the army who had stayed loyal to Speight staged a bloody mutiny at the army's barracks.  Eight men were killed and Bainimarama fled for his life. 

The incident led the army to believe that the government had condoned the mutiny.

This has remained a source of resentment and a motivation for Bainimarama's coup.

Is there room for resolution?

Laracy believes compromise is the only solution following the showdown between government and military.

"It does seem that a challenge to the rule of law is a very singularly serious matter but in the circumstances the government would be very wise to heed the army, and I think we must all hope that there's a compromise there," he says.

He says that in a perverse way, Fiji's military may have had to break the law to achieve the ultimate good of keeping the coup plotters of 2000 behind bars.