4.50pm UPDATE

SUVA - Fiji Vice-President Ratu Jope Seniloli was jailed for four years on Friday after he was convicted of unlawfully swearing in ministers in a rebel government during a coup by armed nationalists four years ago.


Fiji's High Court found Seniloli and three others guilty of administering unlawful oaths during the May 2000 coup which toppled the government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

A Reuters witness in Suva said the ageing Seniloli was driven away to jail in the same prison truck used to escort coup leader George Speight after Speight, a failed businessman, was convicted of treason.

Speight is serving a life sentence on a prison island off the capital Suva.

Speight and a handful of gunmen stormed Fiji's parliament in Suva on May 19, 2000, and took Chaudhry and most of his government hostage. The next day Seniloli swore in several ministers in a rebel government declared by Speight.

Martial law was declared in Fiji later in May 2000 and an interim government under present leader Laisenia Qarase, who has since won free elections, was installed in place of Chaudhry.

The hostage drama dragged on for 56 days before Speight was arrested, but it still managed to topple Chaudhry's unpopular government.

Chaudhry was the first ethnic Indian leader in the racially divided South Pacific nation.

Racial tensions are never far from the surface in Fiji, where indigenous Fijians resent the economic power of the descendants of Indians who were brought out to work British colonial sugar cane farms.

- REUTERS


Herald Feature: The Fiji coup

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