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Agreement Reached on Fiji Hostages

Fiji's military rulers and the group of gunmen holding 31 members of the former government hostage have apparently reached a deal that will end the five-week political crisis and free the hostages "within days." The crisis began when a group led by George Speight raided the parliament building on May 19, demanding more power for indigenous Fijians. Most of the demands made by Speight -- that the 1997 multiracial constitution be thrown out and that Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, Fiji's first prime minister of Indian descent, be fired -- have already been met. In the 36 days since the storming of parliament, Fiji's economy has entered a steep downward spiral. On May 29, the military declared martial law and assumed control of the government. On June 6, Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth, and Australia, New Zealand, and the United States have threatened economic sanctions if Fiji is not restored to democracy. Meanwhile, Australian trade unions have refused to handle cargo to and from Fiji, freezing much of the country's exports. The garment, sugar, and tourism industries have all reported large losses and layoffs. The military regime has announced that the details of the deal will be made known tomorrow, and the hostages will then be released. Previous announcements regarding their release, however, have come to nothing. Once the immediate crisis is solved, the military has said they will continue to run the country for another three months and would then create an interim government to make preparations for new elections within two years.
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