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Turmoil brings ‘economic black eye’ to Fiji travel industrycomment (0)

September 14, 2000

By Sue Ann Miller

The Fiji Islands were once considered an idyllic choice for vacationers seeking a South Seas paradise location. But currently the fairy-tale setting is not attracting a flock of tourists — thanks to political turmoil making international headlines.

Because of recent government unrest the tourism-dependent country is receiving an ‘economic black eye’ that is putting a serious dent in the small nation’s largest industry.

The country’s statistics bureau reported the numbers of visitors plummeted to 12,000 in June as compared to 38,000 recorded in June 1999 — a direct result of safety concerns.

The cause of the crisis is the disgruntledness of indigenous Fijians who are claiming that ethnic Indian Fijians have too much power and are threatening their culture. The roots of the ethnic Indian Fijians go back to the 1870s when British colonialists brought them to the islands as laborers. They now make up 44 percent of the population.

The powder keg of conflict was ignited May 19 and was sparked by a self-proclaimed champion of the indigenous Fijian majority, businessman George Speight. He led an armed gang into Parliament and held dozens of officials for two months until the military met their demands.

Their prerequisites for ending the hostage takeover were amnesty; discarding the multiracial constitution and ousting the elected government led by the newly elected president Ratu Josefa Iloilo and Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry. The prime minister was among the hostages and he was ousted from his position as a result of the coup. Shortly after Chaudhry’s release he met with Australian Prime Minister John Howard to discuss the crisis, mentioning the intervention of United Nations peacekeepers if law and order were not restored, according to an Associated Press report.

The story said Speight was reported to have threatened Iloilo’s life, which the military says constitutes treason and carries a maximum penalty of death.

Ongoing news reports indicate that numerous splinter political parties are vying for control currently held by an interim government.

On Aug. 17 the Interim Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase addressed a delegation of visiting African Caribbean Pacific ministers who were on a fact finding mission because of the political unrest. He said it was unrealistic to reinstate the 1997 Constitution and the People’s Coalition Government led by Chaundry or to appoint a government of national unity. “This is because of the widespread dissatisfaction among the Fijians caused by certain policies of the Chaudhry-led government,” he said. He went on to explain that the interim administration is committed to promulgating a constitution by December 2001 and to hold general elections no less than a year later.

Uncertainty appears to be the norm as government officials jockey for unstable positions. The president of the Fiji Court of Appeal, Jai Ram Reddy, resigned Aug. 31 as a result of political crisis.

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