George Speight

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George Speight (['speːt]; born 1957[citation needed]), occasionally known as Ilikimi Naitini, was the principal instigator of the Fiji coup of 2000, in which he kidnapped thirty-six government officials and held them from May 19, 2000 to July 13, 2000. He is serving life imprisonment for his role in the overthrow of the constitutional government.

Fiji coup of 2000[edit]

Main article: Fiji coup of 2000

On May 19, 2000, a disparate gang led by Speight stormed the parliamentary complex and kidnapped Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and 35 other parliamentarians for the i Taukei (indigenous) rights, including Cabinet ministers. Announcing that he had deposed both the government and the President, Speight swore in serving ruling government member, Timoci Silatolu as Prime Minister by Ratu Jope Seniloli, whom he proclaimed President in place of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. (Seniloli has since been convicted of treason for aiding and abetting the coup.) President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara tried to resist Speight's takeover, but was abruptly removed himself on 29 May by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the Commander of the Military who subsequently abrogated the constitution, made himself Prime Minister and swore in his own President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau (Ratu Jope Seniloli's cousin). (As of 2005, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's illegal removal was the subject of a police investigation.)

The overthrow of the government saw support for Speight's cause as outbreaks of violence occurred in Suva, Levuka, Naitasiri, Tailevu, Ra, Nadi, Yasawa, Serua, Namosi, and on July 7 an army base on Vanua Levu Island was overrun by his supporters.

Fifteen soldiers and two of their officers defected to the rebels and George Speight built up a strong private army. On June 9, Speight announced that he had abolished Fiji's multi-racial Constitution. Three days later, Speight's car was sprayed with gunfire, but the army denied that soldiers were involved in an operation to kill him. On June 25, four female hostages were released. On July 13, Chaudhry was released following an agreement between the rebels and the military administration of Commodore Bainimarama. Claiming that he had signed the agreement "under duress," Bainimarama promptly rescinded it. On 27 July, Speight was arrested with 369 of his followers and charged with treason.

Motives for the coup[edit]

Speight claimed to be a Fijian nationalist and a champion of indigenous rights. He attracted support from certain elements of the Fijian population who were angered by the results of the 1999 election, which had swept away a government dominated by ethnic Fijians and brought to power a multiracial government led by Mahendra Chaudhry, who became Fiji's first-ever Indo-Fijian Prime Minister. Hints that the Chaudhry government might institute some form of land reform also generated considerable resentment among sections of the indigenous population, despite constitutional guarantees that ethnic Fijian ownership of 83 percent of the land could not be changed without the support of 9 of the 14 senators appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs, a wholly indigenous body. The leadup to the coup had seen certain politicians and other public figures play upon this resentment and foster public fear that native land might be alienated. Speight thus found sizeable number of sympathizers when he launched his putsch on 19 May.

Speight's partner, Torika Rawlinson, told the student newspaper Wansolwara that the original intention had been to execute members of the deposed government the night before the coup actually took place. She denied others' reports that Indo-Fijian businessmen had been involved.

Elected to and expelled from Parliament[edit]

In August 2001, democracy was restored and in the subsequent election Speight was elected to the House of Representatives using the name of Ilikimi Naitini. He was elected as a Representative for the Tailevu North Fijian Communal constituency as a candidate of the Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua Party despite his confinement on Nukulau Island. Speight was prevented by the speaker of the Fiji parliament, Epeli Nailatikau, from taking up his seat in Parliament. Subsequently, that December he was expelled from Parliament for non attendance.

Sentence[edit]

On 18 February 2002, Speight was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to a charge of treason. However the government of the Prime Minister Hon. Laisenia Qarase had abolished the death sentence in the House of Representatives on the day that Speight was sentenced.

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, who had replaced Mara following the coup, followed the advice of the Prime Minister and commuted Speight's sentence to life imprisonment. Speight started serving his sentence on Nukulau Island where he had been living out his exile. Following the decision of the Military government to close the Nukulau facility Speight was transferred on 20 December 2006. He is currently serving out his sentence at the Naboro Maximum Security Prison. [1]

Purported change of heart[edit]

On 15 September 2004, a source close to the Fijian government revealed that Speight had renewed his faith in Christianity during his imprisonment. According to the source, Speight's faith had led to a change of heart towards the Indo-Fijian community, and that he wished to participate in the upcoming Fiji Week, a series of prayer meetings and multicultural programmes aimed at reconciling Fiji's ethnic communities, planned for the week of 4 October through 11 October. "He now feels inspired by the word of God and would like to take part in the week of reconciliation," the source told the Australian Associated Press. This request for permission to leave his island prison to take part in the observances was refused, however. At a more personal level, a spokesman for deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry said that on principle, [1]—provided that he reveal the identities of the persons who had planned and financed the coup. So far, no evidence has been revealed by Chaudary as to who these financiers were despite making these claims. Police Commissioner, Andrew Hughes has castigated Chaudary for making unfounded claims and indigenous groups have labeled Chaudary's outburst as an attempt to discredit the "indigenousness" of Speight's coup to cover his own shortcomings as a Prime Minister.

Willing to tell all[edit]

The Fiji Village news service reported on 29 January 2006 that Speight and his associates had indicated his willingness to face the government's proposed Reconciliation and Unity Commission and tell all they know about the alleged planning, financing, and execution of the coup. This was an apparent reversal of his earlier vow to remain silent.

Fiji Live quoted Speight as alleging that the real reason for the strident opposition of the military to the legislation establishing the proposed Commission was that their and, in particular, Bainimarama's own role in the coup plot would be in danger of being revealed. The latest information revealed by some of the CRW troops arrested with Speight suggest that Bainimarama may have been the "real" coup leader after giving the go-ahead at the last security council meeting on Friday May 12, 2000 at Valelevu. His subsequent departure for Norway ensured that he was free from coup conspiracy.On his return not long after the takeover he sent a delegation made up of military spokesmen Colonel Filipo Tarakinikini, Colonel Etueni Caucau and acting Commander Colonel Tuatoko to express his full support for Speight and ex SAS Warrant Officer, Ilisoni Ligairi. Both men were unaware of the pre-coup arrangements set up by Bainimarama.

A dispute arose however as to who should be in the caretaker government as Bainimarama expected to run the country with a few of his close advisers such as Colonel Jerry Waqanisau, Colonel Kacisolomoni, Colonel Paul Manueli and others. This conflict led to a 56 day rule by Bainimarama after which he was forced to step down by Speight and to return the office of the Presidency to civilian rule. Inside sources reveal that Bainimarama manipulated his oblivious officers to finally achieve his pre-May 19, 2000 objectives of ruling the country of which is now a reality in 2008. The crux of proving that Bainimarama was involved in the coup of 2000 lies in that last meeting on Friday May 12 of which the then Police Commissioner Isikia Savua and Home Affairs Permanent Secretary, Konrote were present.

The University of the South Pacific journalism school in Fiji provided coverage of the upheaval on its website Pacific Journalism Online[2] and newspaper Wansolwara [3][4] until its website was temporarily shut down on May 29 [5][6] during the martial law period. The students' coverage archive is at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. [7]

Personal life[edit]

George Speight hails from Naivicula, about ten kilometers from Korovou in Tailevu Province. He is the son of Sam Speight (sometimes known as Savenaca Tokainavo), a prosperous farmer of ethnic Fijian and European descent. The elder Speight is a war veteran who served his country in the successful Malayan campaign. He subsequently served as a backbencher in Rabuka's governments throughout the 1990s. His dual election win has proved the family's vast popularity up in Tailevu North. By the time his son attempted his putsch in 2000, however, Sam Speight was an opposition member of Parliament, his Fijian Political Party having lost power to the Indo-Fijian-led Labour Party of Mahendra Chaudhry in the elections of 1999. This blue ribbon Fijian communal seat of Tailevu North is one of the largest provinces in Fiji and has the distinction of being won by the family in succession beginning with the Hon Savenaca Tokainavo, his sons, Hon. Ilikini Naitini (George Speight) and now by the Hon. Samisoni Tikoinasau (Minister for Lands). There is no doubting however their democratic popularity and the ardent campaign for indigenous rights.

Speight has a son, Ely (born 1998) with Torika Rawlinson.

Speight graduated with Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Business from Michigan's Andrews University. He subsequently settled in Australia, where he worked as a sales representative for the Computer Orchard, a Brisbane-based Apple Computer dealer, and later as a branch manager for Metway Bank before returning to Fiji in 1996. He then became Chairman of Fiji Pine, Ltd. and of Fiji Hardwood Corporation, Ltd.. He also became a manager of Heath Fiji, Ltd. but resigned due to shareholder personality conflicts.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Speight off Nukulau, now in Naboro". Suva, Fiji. The Fiji Times. 21 December 2006. Retrieved 6 August 2013.