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Fiji Coup

Viti Levu, Suva, Denerau

Fiji Coup - July 2000

It's another beautiful day here in Fiji. I am sitting on my yacht, Meniscus of Gweek, under a clear blue sky. There is a balmy breeze, just enough to waft the coconut palms and the warm waters lap gently at the hull. In fact it is strangely quiet.

I am anchored just off the Royal Sheraton Resort at Denerau, which has closed down. There are no tourists on the beach and the only person to disturb the sand is the Security Guard making his lonely rounds. The US Department of State, the British Foreign Office and the New Zealand and Australian Governments (to name but a few) have urged their citizens to defer non-essential travel to Fiji because of the continued uncertainty and instability resulting from the ongoing political crisis.

In fact, there has been very little violence here and all the trouble has been confined to Suva, the capital. One cannot help but wonder who is the most irresponsible, is it George Speight and his followers or is it the forum of western governments currently decrying the current situation? I personally have not been affected by the coup and look on with a mixture of amusement at the antics of various political factions, with sympathy for the people of Fiji and in horror at the behaviour of Western Governments. I certainly see no reason not to travel here so long as Suva is avoided. As well as the various goverments all but forbidding tourists to come, there have been trade and post embargoes by New Zealand and Australia as well as expulsion from the Commonwealth. The international press has done its normal job of sensationalising the situation but has forgotten to give a balanced view by reporting on how the rest of the country has been affected. The military and George Speight are currently in a stand-off situation, while the rest of the country attempts to go about its daily life. The tourist industry, the second largest turnover in the country, has all but ground to a stand still and it is peak season; hotels and resorts are almost empty and thousands of employees have been laid off. Associated tours, shops and transport are equally affected. The manufacturing industry, which is the largest employer, has also laid off thousands of staff as fabrics from Australia and New Zealand are suddenly not available.

At the end of the day, this all means that the immotive flurry of international reaction has done little more than remove the incomes of a huge number of people who normal care for foreign guests. It certainly seems like a remarkably ineffective way of making a point and as good as kicking sand in their faces. So far, there has been nothing reported here or abroad about anything constructive being done to support a country which is proud of its contacts with Britain, the Commonwealth and the Royal Family. There does not seem to have been any support from those experienced in negotiating with terrorists nor has there been any reported help for the military on how to tackle the problem. The humanitarian way forward for so called first world nations is to provide help, advice and assistance and not to kick in the teeth a nation already suffering. The net result is that, at the end of the day, the poor and needy have been made to suffer first and unemployment is set to bring more trouble, driving people to crime in order to survive.

On May 19, eight armed gunmen seized control of Fiji's parliament building in Suva and took the Prime Minister and 31 other Parliamentarians hostage. This was followed by rioting, looting and arson in Suva and its environs, targeting the businesses of local Indians. Police spent several days controlling the situation although there was little evidence of physical violence involving people during this period and most of the problems related to theft from shops. On Sunday evening, May 28, a large mob brandishing guns and knives moved through the city of Suva. Shots were heard around different parts of the city and a police officer was fatally wounded. The situation has been largely peaceful but remains a little volatile with the possibility that other similar disturbances could break out in and around Suva. The situation outside Suva continues to be peaceful. The military declared nationwide martial law on May 29, and imposed a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in Suva, Nadi and Lautoka. The Curfew in Nadi and Lautoka has since been removed.

It is sensible for people to avoid travel to the capital of Suva. In addition, international flights and passenger connections may be disrupted by labor union action in Fiji and elsewhere. International flights out of Nadi Airport have been slightly disrupted, but service has not been discontinued. International service to and from Nausori Airport near Suva is being diverted to Nadi or cancelled.

Fiji is a South Pacific island nation consisting of over 800 islands and islets, of which approximately 100 are inhabited. The capital is Suva.

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