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Coup Trial Continues in Fiji - 2002-01-07

A court in Fiji has been told an alleged plot to kidnap the prime minister was part of an elaborate plan to overthrow the government and reassert military rule. Prosecutors in the South Pacific nation say documents found in a house in the capital, Suva, outline what they called "various uprisings" across Fiji.

Niumaia Cati appeared before magistrates in Suva, charged with possessing a seditious document. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and is being held in custody. At first, the former soldier admitted the charge, but he changed his plea after his lawyer said it had been made without legal advice.

He is one of two men arrested in the past two days as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to kidnap Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and other senior political and military figures.

Four other men were arrested last week, and have been charged with conspiring to abduct the prime minister. All have pleaded not guilty. Charges against one man were later dropped, after he agreed to testify against the other defendants.

Police have accused the group of planning to hold the prime minister, military chief Frank Bainimarama and six others hostage to push for the release of jailed coup leader George Speight.

Mr. Speight, an indigenous Fijian nationalist and former businessman, faces the death penalty for overthrowing the government led by the country's first ethnic Indian premier, Mahendra Chaudhry, in 2000.

He is being held on a prison island ahead of a treason trial in February.

In court Monday, prosecutors said documents seized during the recent arrests outline a plot to destabilize the country, appoint new ministers and abolish the Constitution.

Military checkpoints remain in place around Suva. The prime minister has called for an end to such nationalist activities, which have destabilized Fiji for the past two years.