Speight and supporters arrested by Fijian military

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The Independent Online

Rebel leader George Speight, two of his advisers and a body guard were arrested Wednesday by Fijian military forces following allegations that Speight's men had threatened Fiji's president, a military spokesman said.

Rebel leader George Speight, two of his advisers and a body guard were arrested Wednesday by Fijian military forces following allegations that Speight's men had threatened Fiji's president, a military spokesman said.

"There are a number of allegations brought to us about the carriage of arms in and around Suva by George Speight and his body guards and also threats to the head of state," Lt. Col. Filipo Tarakinikini said. He did not say who made the claims. There was no word on whether Speight would be charged.

There was no immediate reaction from Speight's supporters. But his arrest is sure to intensify tensions in the country which is already in chaos following Speight's May 19 coup. Earlier an official had said Speight was arrested on suspicion of a curfew violation.

Shots were fired before the arrests at a military checkpoint close to Speight's camp, but there were no immediate reports of any injuries. One local radio station cited eyewitnesses who said one of Speight's men was beaten as he was arrested.

Speight and his supporters were granted amnesty as part of a recent deal that saw the release of the last of his hostages. The hostages were seized when Speight and a gang of gunmen stormed Parliament on May 19. But Tarakinikini said that amnesty was conditional on rebels turning in all their arms - something they have not done.

"Mr. Speight goes around with armed body guards - that is illegal. We can't have private militias operating around the country," Tarakinikini said. Speight has said that his coup was aimed at strengthening the position of indigenous Fijians in the country.

Speight and those arrested with him, his legal adviser Tevita Bukaru, his spokesman, Jo Nata, and a body guard were being held at Suva's main military barracks. Earlier on Wednesday, Fiji's military bolstered its presence across the Pacific island nation awaiting an announcement of a new government. Speight forced the last government, the first led by a member of Fiji's ethnic Indian minority, out of office.

Amid threats of reprisals from coup rebels, Fiji's President Ratu Josefa Iloilo kept up efforts to form the new government but did not name his lineup. Military spokesman Lt. Ro Alipate Mataitini said extra troops had been posted throughout Fiji and warned that rebels could expect a tough response if they tried to cause unrest.

"The military has deployed soldiers around the country in anticipation of a negative reaction by George Speight supporters to the announcement of the new Cabinet lineup," Mataitini told Fiji One TV.

The crisis set off by Speight's coup threw Fiji into turmoil, prompting widespread civil unrest and attacks against ethnic Indians, economic paralysis and international censure.

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