Speight and aides on treason charges

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The Independent Online

George Speight, the Fijian coup leader, and 14 of his aides will stand trial for treason. They were charged yesterday with conspiring to overthrow the lawfully elected government.

George Speight, the Fijian coup leader, and 14 of his aides will stand trial for treason. They were charged yesterday with conspiring to overthrow the lawfully elected government.

The court in Suva was told that the accused and fellow plotters had in effect declared war on the Fijian people. Mr Speight, who held Mahendra Chaudhry and his cabinet hostage for eight weeks, was also charged with making a death threat against the former president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Ratu Mara stepped down after the army declared martial law 10 days after the coup.

The 15 men arrived at court expecting bail on minor firearms and public order charges, but they have been returned to their offshore island prison. No trial date has been set. Prosecutors, who include the British lawyer Robert Schuster, a former RAF helicopter pilot, want Fiji's chief magistrate to be disqualified from hearing the case because he was closely related to a Speight associate.

Mr Speight, his head bandaged after he was allegedly beaten by a soldier, arrived in a police bus to cheers of supporters. Among others charged were his brother, Jim, his media adviser, Jo Nata, and his security chief, Ilisoni Ligairi.

Treason carries the death penalty in Fiji, but there has been no execution for three decades.

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