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Deputy PM denies racism claims

Tuesday 24 November 2015 | Published in Regional

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SUVA – In Fiji, the opposition Sodelpa Party’s whip wants the acting prime minister to resign over what he says was a “racist gesture”.

Last week Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum was engaged in a heated exchange with Sodelpa whip Ratu Isoa Tikoca when he made what some assumed was an ape-like gesture and made grunting noises.

Ratu Isoa said Sayed-Khaiyum’s “ape-like impersonation” was racist towards i-Taukei.

Sayed-Khaiyum has defended himself and in a statement said that instead of referring to Ratu Isoa as a monkey, he was in fact mimicking Darth Vadar from the Star Wars movie because of the “rumbling and menacing tone” of Ratu Isoa’s interjections.

Ratu Isoa has since called for Sayed-Khaiyum’s resignation over the incident.

He described Sayed-Khaiyum’s explanation as “fluffy” and said there was nothing light-hearted about his insulting antics.

A video of the incident was put on YouTube by the Fiji government from live coverage of parliament and has attracted thousands of views and widely posted on Facebook pages.

In a statement on the government’s Facebook the deputy prime minister said: “ I am saddened that lighthearted comments and gestures I made during parliamentary exchanges on Wednesday have been deliberately twisted to imply that I made a racial slur against the i-Taukei.

“Anyone who was in the parliamentary chamber who witnessed the full proceedings and read the Hansard report knows the truth – that I referred to the opposition member, Honourable Ratu Isoa Tikoca, as Darth Vader because of the rumbling and menacing tone of his persistent interjections.

“I went on to mimic Darth Vadar’s speaking style in the Star Wars movies by lowering the register of my voice and adopting a Darth Vadar pose. The video clip of the proceedings clearly shows members of the house laughing, including the Honourable Speaker.

“At no stage does the Hansard record me saying anything that constitutes a racial slur. So I am very disappointed and saddened that Honourable Ratu Isoa has engaged in a pathetic attempt to vilify me using parliamentary privilege and inflame ethnic division.

“Honourable Ratu Isoa Tikoca is resorting to the old politics of looking for an ethnic dimension when the opposition is losing public support and the government is receiving widespread acclaim for the Budget from all Fijians.”

Sayed-Khaiyum said he has fought racism his entire life and the attacks from the opposition were unjustified and just cheap political shots.

Sodelpa has called on Saiyed- Khaiyum to apologise saying his actions were completely unacceptable.

A Sodelpa youth member posted on Facebook that the gestures were “unacceptable” and asked what version of Star Wars had the deputy PM been watching. But others say he was simply making a joke.

Fiji’s Speaker Dr Jiko Leveni defended Saiyez-Khaiyum saying MPs knew he was making a joke about Ratu Isoa’s gruff voice and MPs on both sides of the house laughed at the exchange.

One Facebook commentator said that if the government is so crazy about Star Wars,maybe they would consider a public holiday when the latest sequel is released soon.

Following the incident, in an apparent attempt to show Sayed-Kaiyuim as a man of the people, the Fiji government issued photographs of the deputy prime minister interacting with i-Taukei Fijian market workers.

The government said the visit to Ba was “an opportunity for people to get close and personal” with Sayed-Khaiyum there to inspect construction of the town’s new market place.

- PNC