Former Fiji leader arrested by military regime

Wellington (dpa) – Former Fiji prime minister Mahendra Chaudhryhas been arrested and charged with breaching public emergency regulations which bar public meetings, according to reports from thecapital Suva on Sunday.

Chaudhry, who was ousted by hardline ethnic nationalists in 2000,one year after becoming the first ethnic Indian elected to power, wasin custody and scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

Military dictator Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama banned all public meetings when he revoked the constitution and sacked the judges to invoke emergency laws in April 2009.

Bainimarama, who seized power in a bloodless coup in December 2006, bans all criticism of his regime and imposes strict censorship on local media.

Five other people were arrested with Chaudhry, who is leader of the opposition Fiji Labour Party.    His lawyer Peter Williams told Radio New Zealand there was no basis for his arrest when he was assessing the impact of drought on sugar cane farmers.

He said Chaudhry denied he was at an organised meeting but was talking to drought-affected farmers as a public figure, politician and leading trade unionist. dpa db tl