6 Aug 2004

Jail secured as Fiji vice president awaits sentence

7:56 am on 6 August 2004

Fiji's police and military further boosted security around the capital as vice president Seniloli spent the night at Suva's Korovou Prison after his conviction on serious coup related charges.

The military commander, Commodore Bainimarama, says the security forces are monitoring the situation and are prepared to respond to any trouble.

The Suva High Court yesterday found Seniloli guilty of agreeing to become the usurper president during the coup.

Also in Suva prison last night were the deputy speaker of parliament Vakalabure, Viliame Savu, Viliame Volavola and Peceli Rinakama who were also convicted of taking an illegal oath to commit a capital offence.

The offences were in relation to their being sworn in as members of Speight's illegal administration.

All five convicts face a maximum of life in prison.

But the chief prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi QC of New South Wales, has asked the court to sentence Seniloli and Vakalalabure to below the mandatory seven years imposed on previous treason convicts Timoci Silatolu and Josefa Nata.

Meanwhile, the new chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, Ratu Ovini Bokini, has expressed shock at Seniloli's conviction.

The Great Council is the appointing authority for the president and the vice president, and Ratu Ovoni says he will call an urgent meeting of the chiefs to discuss the vice presidency.

Government MP and spokesman for the pro-coup Conservative Alliance (Matanitu Vanua) party, Samisoni Tikonisau, has criticised Seniloli's conviction saying it is selective western justice.

Mr Tikonisau, who is George Speight's brother, says the Great Council must stand by Seniloli because he is a high chief and high office holder.

He is asking how Sitiveni Rabuka received lifetime immunity after his 1987 coups while the vice president was spending last night in prison.