Vol. 5 No. 2
THE DAY THE GUNMEN TOOK OVER
By TIMOCI CAUCAU
Coup leader George Speight with the media.
We were at the journalism newsroom when the news broke out. It came from our newsroom radio, on Radio Fiji One at around 10.45am.
Everyone in Fiji knew that the Taukei Movement, was marching through Suva that morning, but no one had a feeling of what was going to happen later that day.
The shocking news that seven gunmen had taken over Parliament stunned us. Unbelievable. How could this have happened?
The news generated all kinds of feelings among those in the newsroom. The indigenous students felt a sense of elation. This was part of the struggle for indigenous self-determination!
Others just felt a sense of excitement. The Pacific Island students were not sure whether to feel scared or to just stay calm.
Indo-Fijians were horrified. They were concerned that it was a repetition of the 1987 story.
We started running around the newsroom trying to do something - anything. Everyone wanted to cover the story. The sound of gunmen in Parliament continued to ring in our ears.
Five journalism students Chris, Priestly, Reggie, Harry and I decided to go over to Parliament House and cover the story.
Course coordinator David Robie supported our initiative to go and gave us his blessing. We were running out of time.
We asked the USP security to call us a cab but they told us their line was cut off. This fueled our excitement but also added to our sense of unease and trepidation.
It took us a while to catch a cab from the main road as most cabs refused to stop.
After several delays from various police roadblocks and after changing our route several times we finally made it.
On arrival at the Parliament House we saw a crowd of about 2000 people standing outside Parliament with a few journalists who had also just arrived. The gates were closed and inside stood three gunmen armed with machine guns and pistols.
Outside, the leaders of the march were speaking in loud speakers shouting out their demands with the crowd cheering. The feeling was electric!
After about one and a half-hours after being there, a shot was fired from inside Parliament. Shocked, we remained immobile!
Later we learnt that the shot was from a blank bullet and no one was hurt.
At around 1pm we heard from a small transistor radio that there was chaos in town. Shop windows were smashed and people broke inside and began damaging items.
Indo-Fijians who got in the way were assaulted.
Priestly, Evan, our cameraman, Millie and I decided to go downtown and check out what was happening.
There was no transport but fortunately a truck offered us a lift to town. Along the way there were smashed cars and looted shops.
We were dropped off at Civic Centre and walked across Sukuna Park. Ahead we could see a big crowd of people standing in the middle of the road watching street kids throwing rocks at shop windows, trying to smash their way in.
We started taking pictures. Around us people were running around getting in to shops and taking anything they could lay their hands on. Then we started to see smoke coming out from some of the roofs of the shops.
We assumed some people were razing houses. We stopped one of the boys who was trying to take things from the shop and asked, "Do you know what you are doing is wrong? Do you know that it is looting?" He turned to us and shouted, "Better grab what you can before it all gets burnt down!"
Some people were shouting, "These people have milked our economy, they have cheated us for generations!! Why are you trying to stop us?"
We stood there stunned by the violent reaction of the people. This certainly was no normal reaction.
It seemed to us a result of years of resentment, frustration, anger that had been suppressed for a long time finally finding a way to burst to the surface.
We watched helplessly and decided we had better move on home before we too became targets.
File created: 3 June 2000
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