By STAFF REPORTERS
Anxious Fiji Indians living in New Zealand fear for the safety of their relatives as another coup engulfs their Pacific homeland.
With communication to Fiji cut for much of yesterday, telephone calls from people desperate for information flooded radio stations and Fiji organisations in New Zealand.
The managing director of Radio Tarana in Auckland, Robert Khan, said the Hindi station had been deluged with calls from people worried about their families.
"There's been a huge reaction from the local community," he said. "Everybody is scared and worried, but I must say the coup was not a surprise.
"People are especially concerned about the situation in Suva and the fact that it would be hard to leave because of immigration laws."
Angry members of the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji, meeting in Auckland last night, said the 1997 constitution had failed and they were back to square one.
"We're saddened that Fiji is again being subjected to racist zealots," said spokesman Ahmed Bhamji.
A former MP in Fiji, Ali Ayub Husain, said the ordinary people of Fiji, up to 40 per cent of whom live below the poverty line, would suffer as a result of the coup.
"We are shellshocked. Fiji relies on the sugar cane, which should be being processed next week, but who will be doing that now?"
He believed reports coming from Fiji that Indian farmers had been thrown off their land and were in hiding.
"It's what happened last time."
The 64-year-old Mr Husain, an MP for seven years and a member of the select committee that deliberated on the controversial 1997 constitution, still owns property in Fiji and has a son living in Lautoka.
Yesterday, the family were unable to make contact with relatives but fielded constant telephone calls from friends and relatives in New Zealand, each swapping snippets of news as it came to hand. Reports of burning and looting on the streets of Suva made the wait for news that much harder.
Mr Husain suspected that the plotters had cut the phone lines to prevent foreign media getting news of events until the coup was well under way.
He and his wife, Atrun, moved to their Mt Roskill home in October after Mr Husain lost his seat in Parliament when his moderate National Federation Party was routed in the general elections.
He believes the present upheaval is caused by discontent at the power Fiji Indians held in the Parliament elected a year ago and lingering resentment by indigenous Fijians at the election of Mahendra Chaudhry as the country's first Fiji Indian Prime Minister.
"A lot of people foresaw a scenario where the Fijians had the upper hand and the Indians would play a minor role politically and everyone would be happy, but that didn't happen," he said.
"I think personally they didn't want an Indian to become Prime Minister."
Fiji Association spokesman Dr Satendra Singh said callers who got through to Suva were told of people locking themselves inside and of anti-Indian demonstrations.
"It sounds horrendous. There are reports of burning and hatred directed towards Indians," he said.
Telecom spokeswoman Linda Sanders was unsure what caused the cuts, but late yesterday said that about 10 per cent of calls were getting through.
During one brief connection period the Herald spoke to a South Canterbury woman in Lautoka who said she and other residents had been told to stay home.
Before the phone link fizzled and died, she spoke of "ominous signs," including the appearance of two Red Cross depots outside the gates of Parliament.
In Wellington, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised New Zealanders to defer all non-essential travel to Fiji. Air Pacific cancelled its flights to the country.
Air New Zealand said it was watching the situation closely, but had yet to cancel flights. Spokesman Alastair Carthew said some of the 220 passengers on a 6.15 pm flight to Nadi failed to turn up after news of the coup spread.
The plane carried extra fuel so it could safely return to NZ if there were problems landing in Fiji.
State Insurance chief executive Tim Sole said customers with travel policies would be compensated for money lost on travel and accommodation deposits.