Declaring that they were taking power in a coup, seven masked men with AK-47 rifles stormed Fiji's Parliament today and seized the island's prime minister and seven Cabinet ministers, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and local media reported.
At least two shots were fired inside the building during the attack, which began about 10 a.m., but no injuries were reported. Local media reported that mobs of youths later began rampaging through Suva's streets and looting shops.
Sitiveni Rabuka, a former army colonel who led two coups in 1987, was in Parliament negotiating with the gunmen, the New Zealand foreign affairs ministry said. Rabuka was accompanied by senior army and police officials, an apparent indication that the initial attack had no military backing.
The coup attempt came on the first anniversary of the election of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, who Fijian nationalists have accused of promoting pro-Indian policies.
Fiji, a Pacific Ocean island group about 2,250 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia, has a population of 813,000 _ 51 percent ethnic Fijians, 44 percent ethnic Indian.
Criticism of the government centers mainly on attempts by Chaudhry to persuade Fijian landowners to renew expiring leases on farmland held by thousands of ethnic Indian tenants who are the core of his political support.
Opposition leader Ratu Inoke Kubuabola has criticized that effort, saying Chaudhry was "asking people to take the law into their own hands."