SUVA, Fiji -- Armed rebels holding the prime minister and other officials hostage in Fiji's parliament complex plan to release them this weekend, the rebel leader said today.
The rebel leader, George Speight, said that after he releases the hostages, Fiji's tribal chiefs will decide what the next step should be in this Pacific nation where the military dealt with the hostage crisis by declaring martial law Monday.
The rebels and the military agreed to put two options to the influential Great Council of Chiefs: let the military run Fiji until a new constitution is drawn up and elections called or allow a civilian government led by Speight to guide the country to elections.
Speight said he wants the chiefs to form a civilian government with him as prime minister, and he believes he has the necessary backing. The chiefs are scheduled to meet Monday.
Speight and his armed group have been holding more than 30 hostages since May 19 in Suva, the capital of this country 2,250 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia. The crisis is rooted in simmering tensions between the country's large ethnic Indian minority and the Fijian majority, many of whom are angry that the Indians have gained power.
The rebels are indigenous Fijians, while Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and other hostages are ethnic Indian. The rebels want Chaudhry, Fiji's first prime minister from the minority, removed from power and Fijians of Indian ancestry barred from leading the country again.
Since the crisis began, gangs have attacked ethnic Indian homes and businesses, in some cases looting and burning the homes and beating residents.
In the face of the unrest, the military took control Monday, declaring martial law and opening negotiations with Speight's supporters.
The military rulers have accepted Speight's major demands: scrapping the 1997 constitution blamed by indigenous Fijians for giving too much power to ethnic Indians, deposing President Ratu Sir Kamisise Mara and offering Speight and his gang amnesty.
In the most positive sign yet that the hostages will soon be released, Speight said he wants Monday's meeting with the tribal chiefs to be ''uninhibited or untainted by ... issues,'' including the fate of the captives.
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