Ten Fijians in court over PM assassination plot

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SUVA, Nov 6 (Reuters) Ten Fijians, among them former senior army and intelligence officers, a chief and a former politician, appeared in court today charged with plotting to kill the South Pacific island nation's prime minister.

A total of 16 people have been arrested over the assassination plot against Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, Fiji's military chief who came to power in a bloodless 2006 coup.

The 10 men appeared in a Suva court today to be formally charged with treason, inciting mutiny and conspiracy to murder. The men are expected to enter a plea tomorrow.

Bainimarama said that if security forces had not uncovered the assassination plot it would have led to ''serious unrest, bloodshed, and instability in Fiji'', which has been hit by four coups and an army mutiny since 1987.

''I am standing here before you of course happy to be alive,'' Bainimarama told a news conference on Tuesday.

''I am also able to say with confidence that the plan to kill me and a number of others and thereby also endanger the lives of other innocent citizens of this country has failed,'' he said.

Among those charged are Fiji's former military land force commander, Colonel Jone Baledrokadroka, who was an ally of Bainimarama until he moved an unsuccessful vote of no confidence against the military chief three years ago and was discharged for insubordination.

Another charged was Fiji's former intelligence director, Colonel Metuisela Mua, who served a prison term for his involvement in a 2000 coup.

Fiji police say more arrests are possible and have asked for military assistance.

No details of the assassination plot against Bainimarama have been released.

Bainimarama narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in 2000 during a failed bloody army mutiny. The military chief was forced to flee his barracks in Suva over a fence and into bushes.

Bainimarama seized power in a coup on December 5, 2006, claiming the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was corrupt and soft on those behind a 2000 coup.

The self-appointed prime minister said in June he was willing to hold elections by early 2009, but many international observers said Fiji was making little movement towards democracy, with the military-backed government firmly in control.

Fiji's military says it would not re-impose a state of emergency, lifted in October, because of the assassination plot.

REUTERS ARB BD1242

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