Speight's rebels claim they are blocking new Fiji government

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The Independent Online

Fiji's political crisis deepened yesterday with the Prime Minister and nationalist rebels squabbling over a delay in the swearing in of a new government and a report of a possible breakaway administration.

Fiji's political crisis deepened yesterday with the Prime Minister and nationalist rebels squabbling over a delay in the swearing in of a new government and a report of a possible breakaway administration.

The Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, said the swearing-in ceremony had been postponed because President Ratu Josefa Iloilo was ill, but the rebels, who opposed Mr Qarase's appointment and wanted a larger role in government, said they had forced the delay.

The rebels, led by George Speight, stormed parliament on 19 May and held Fiji's first ethnic Indian premier, Mahendra Chaudhry, and most of his cabinet hostage for 56 days in the name of indigenous Fijian rights. They freed them last week but have threatened further action.

Mr Chaudhry's ousted People's Coalition, which is demanding to be reinstated, is meeting today at the western village of Sorokoba to discuss its "action plan" for the future. One option would be to set up a government-in-exile in the west of the main island of Viti Levu, the centre of the ethnic-Indian dominated sugar cane industry. But the Labour senator Dalpat Rathod rejected reports of plans for a sovereign state in the west. "To disintegrate the country would be the last option to be considered," he said.

The rebels, whose overthrow of Mr Chaudhry's multi-racial government plunged the country into political and economic crisis, said the swearing-in ceremony had been cancelled because they were unhappy with the list of ministers. Mr Speight was upset he was not consulted before the government was announced on Tuesday.

Most of Mr Speight's 200 supporters left the parliament compound during Tuesday night, and the last filed out yesterday. Armed soldiers then moved into the compound for the first time since the crisis began, and swept it for weapons. ( Reuters)

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