Former Fiji leader bailed on emergency charge

Mahendra Chaudhry was charged with breaching public emergency regulations.

Wellington: Former Fiji prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, who is of Indian origin, was granted bail when he appeared in court on Monday after being arrested by the country`s military regime and charged with breaching public emergency regulations which bar public meetings, according to reports from the capital Suva.

Chaudhry, who was ousted in a revolt by extremist indigenous Fijian businessman George Speight in 2000, a year after becoming the first ethnic Indian elected to power, had been held in custody since being arrested with five other men on Friday.

He was detained with the others, including his driver, and a local National Farmers` Union executive Sanjeet Maharaj and accused of holding a meeting with a police permit, the Fiji Times reported on its website.

They were remanded until Wednesday.

Fiji`s military dictator Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama banned all public meetings when he revoked the Constitution and sacked the judges to invoke emergency laws in April last year.

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

Peter Williams, lawyer for Chaudhry, who leads the opposition Fiji Labour Party, told Radio New Zealand there was no basis for his arrest at a time 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.