Speight arrested on arms charges by Fijian troops on arms charges

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The Independent Online

After swanning around Suva with impunity for 10 weeks, George Speight, the Fiji coup leader, was behind bars last night for refusing to relinquish his gang's stolen weapons.

After swanning around Suva with impunity for 10 weeks, George Speight, the Fiji coup leader, was behind bars last night for refusing to relinquish his gang's stolen weapons.

The army swooped at a checkpoint outside Suva, the capital, fired five warning shots and arrested Mr Speight, his media adviser, Jo Nata, his legal adviser, Tevita Bukaru, and one of his bodyguards, Ireli Cakau. The spokesman for the military, Lieutenant-Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini, said Mr Speight and his followers had been seen carrying weapons in and around Suva, flouting the conditions of an amnesty granting them immunity from prosecution in connection with the coup. Mr Speight, who in May invaded the parliament compound and held hostage the government of Mahendra Chaudhry for 56 days, is also alleged to have threatened President Ratu Joesefa Iloilo.

Mr Speight's arrest will raise tension. The military deployed extra troops yesterday, fearing that the announcement of a new government - scheduled for today - could prompt more unrest. Mr Speight, who released the hostages a fortnight ago, was held at a checkpoint in Kolabu, 12 miles from Suva, at 11.30am BST yesterday and was taken to Queen Elizabeth Barracks, the military headquarters.

Resolution of the hostage crisis has not heralded a return to political and civil order. About 100 Speight supporters have congregated at a school in Kolabu. They control Fiji's main hydroelectric plant and a barracks outside the capital.

Mr Speight claims to represent indigenous Fijians who are resentful of the domination of political and commercial life by Indo-Fijians, 44 per cent of the population.

He persuaded the military, who seized power 10 days after his coup, to scrap the constitution under which Mr Chaudhry, Fiji's first Indian prime minister, was elected.

The new government is expected to be named today by Ratu Iloilo, who has delayed the announcement several times, fearing violence by rebels.

Mr Speight has threatened more disorder if his candidate for prime minister, Adi Samanunu Cakobau, a diplomat, is not appointed in place of the military-backed caretaker prime minister, Laisenia Qarase. "The people could react," he said before his arrest.

Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth's decision-making bodies after Mr Speight's coup and sanctions have been imposed by Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the US and the European Union.

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