Fijian campuses pick up pieces after Speight coup

August 11, 2000

The University of the South Pacific could have lost students and academic staff in the wake of Fiji's attempted coup led by George Speight two months ago.

The second semester was due to start this week but the university has no clear idea of how many students will be returning or how many staff it has lost.

Ultra-nationalist Fijian rebels stormed parliament on May 19. The disruption forced the university to close a fortnight early.

Campus sources predict that up to 30 academic and support staff may have left, either resigning, not taking up appointments or not returning from holidays.

Local and expatriate staff are among those not expected to return. Students from a number of island nations served by the university have chosen not to continue studying there because of the civil disorder.

Meanwhile, the university faces an uncertain financial future. The government has already imposed pay cuts on public servants in an attempt to compensate for the massive damage caused to the country by the rebellion and the subsequent looting and violence.

The university has still to appoint a successor to vice-chancellor Esekia Solofa, who retires in February 2001. The council deferred its decision after demonstrations on the Suva campus by extremist Fijian nationalists who claimed that an Indo-Fijian was about to be appointed to the post.

Pat Craddock, from the university media centre, said the university was suffering daily power cuts that were affecting computers and making it difficult to function.

But the journalism department's website, which the administration closed during the unrest, is back online. Journalism students, under the direction of New Zealand lecturer David Robie, provided round-the-clock coverage of the attempted coup.

The site was shifted to the University of Technology campus in Sydney and a private site in the United States. The department is also celebrating the return of a van of journalism books found at Parliament House after the rebels moved out.

The books had been donated to the journalism course by the Freedom Forum in the United States and had been in a vehicle that was hijacked by supporters of the rebel leader.

The books were later recovered when police inspected parliament after the rebels left the complex last week.

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