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Fiji’s Wrestling Champion Passes Away at 99




Fiji’s Wrestling legend 99 years old Haji Mohammed Khan passed away last Sunday at his family home in Sabeto, Nadi and was buried at his family cemetery in Sabeto which was attended by a large crowd of family and friends from overseas and around Fiji.

Mohammed Yakub Khan’s wanderlust, determination and courage can be traced back at least one generation to his father, a citizen of Patiala, a city in south-eastern Punjab, northern India.

From his home in the Punjab Yakub’s father travelled to Calcuttta and sailed for Fiji as part of the indentured labourer scheme. The indentured labour system was introduced in 1833 and lasted until 1920. It was a form of debt bondage which transported more than three million Indians who had volunteered to work in European colonies. The Pacific islands of Fiji began receiving Indian labourers in 1879, mostly working in the sugar plantations, and was to receive 60,000 before the scheme was disbanded in 1916.

Yakub’s father was one of those indentured labourers who came in search of a better life, but it was a hard life and there are many stories of ill treatment of the incomers. The labourers were contracted to remain in Fiji for five years, but the majority chose to stay permanently, many of them developing their own sugar cane fields or farms. Even owning their own farms the Indians were forced to give a contribution from their income to the Colonial Sugar Refinery Company.

This was the background of Mohammed Yakub Khan, born on Viti Levu on 23rd November, 1925. Viti Levu is the largest of the Fijian islands, home to 70% of the island republic’s population and the capital city of Suva.

As a child Yakub lived in Sabeto, a rural settlement in the Sabeto Valley, an area of stunning natural beauty at the base of the Sleeping Giant Mountain range, and close to the hot springs and mud pools which are now a major Fijian tourist attraction.

Life was hard as a child. Fortunate in owning his own small farm Yakub’s father had to make the proceeds feed all his eleven children, of which Yakub was the youngest. Childhood for Yakub involved formal schooling, at the nearby Sabeto school, and helping on the farm. When he was older Yakub went to the larger school in Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest city, where he could learn English.

Mohammed Yakub developed an interest in horse riding, not just riding them to get around near his home, but also racing. By then the youngster had developed a competitive nature, not surprising being the youngest of eleven siblings forever struggling to make his voice heard, and he applied this competitive character to horse racing. He did well and became well known around Fiji as a successful jockey.

Fiji was a British colony at the time World War 2 was declared, and Mohammed Yakub was just fifteen years old. A few miles from his home in Sabeto an airstrip was built and completed in March 1940. The airfield was used by the United States Army Air Forces when the Pacific War began in 1941, with Flying Fortresses flown from Nadi against Japanese targets in the Philippines and Solomon Islands.

The teenager started to help the soldiers break horses. Animals roamed freely around Fiji, and this caused problems for the airmen with wild horses straying onto the airfield. One day an American General was looking for a local to keep roaming animals away from the runway. Yakub was interviewed by the General and the was given a job, keeping the animals away until the area could be fenced off.

Naturally the soldiers at the base organised their own entertainment – concerts, competitions and sports that included wrestling. Now Mohammed Yakub knew Indian style wrestling, which had been brought to Fiji by the indentured labourers. The Indian style wrestling had blended with veibo, the traditional Fijian wrestling. Yakub wrestled to entertain the soldiers, and he loved the attention,

“It was amazing and I felt great. I remember everyone cheering. After I had won a couple of matches I started loving the sport and thought, why not? I can continue doing this not just for a show but for my career”

When the war was over professional wrestling was again promoted in Fiji. There had been a professional tradition in the 1930s with crowds of more than 2,000 Fijian fans enjoying Jaget Singh, Harban Singh and Gabo Stephens. The main centre for the matches was the capital city of Suva on the south east coast of Viti Levu. Mohammed Yakub was approached by John Grant, the leading theatrical and sporting entrepreneur in Fiji, who was at the time reviving the sport. He persuaded Yakub to turn professional wrestler.

Mohammed Yakub went on to win the middleweight championship of Fiji and was to remain undefeated for many years.

In the early 1960s he came to Britain, and prior to the 1962 Immigration Act obtained British citizenship. Mohammed Yakub has memories of the British people as welcoming and kind. But he was a long way from home and inevitably lonely in a land that was very different from Fiji. To lift his spirits Yakub began going to wrestling shows which were staged every night somewhere in London. He enjoyed the wrestling immensely, it provided an interest in an unfamiliar land, and he pondered the idea of resuming his wrestling career in Britain.

Enquiries led Yakub to a coffee bar in a four storey building in Old Compton Street, London, and the headquarters of Paul Lincoln Management. The 2I’s was frequented by rock stars and wrestlers. He tentatively made his way inside and asked for the owner, Paul Lincoln. Arrangements were made for Yakub to have a trial, and he was instructed to turn up at the Metropolitan Theatre the following Saturday at 3pm.

Four trial matches took place and the decision made that Mohammed Yakub was good enough to wrestle for Paul Lincoln Management. In the months that followed he was to wrestle all the big names that were working for Paul Lincoln and other opposition promoters at the time.

Amongst his opponents were the blond haired Canadian villain Flash Lee Edwards, World Champion Mike Marino, the London dock yard bad boy Don Stedman, Judo Al Hayes and many others. In total Mohammed Yakub had more than a hundred matches in Britain during his fifteen month stay.

His memories of Britain are fond ones, but it wasn’t home. When he was offered the chance to wrestle in the United States Mohammed Yakub declined and made the decision to return to Fiji.

Towards the end of 1963 he left England for home, where he continued to wrestle on his return. By then he was nearing his fortieth birthday and also felt a desire to pursue other interests. He founded his own company, an earth moving and public transport business, and became one of Fiji’s most successful businessmen.

Six years following his retirement from wrestling Mohammed Yakub was encouraged to return to the ring, again finding championship success when he won the South Sea.

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Three men rescued off island due to beach ‘HELP’ sign



Three men were rescued by the US Coast Guard off an island in Micronesia after they sent out a plea for “HELP” using palm tree leaves.

They spelled out “HELP” with the leaves, which led to the rescue nine days after they left on a sailing trip.

They had been reported missing after failing to return from a journey to Pikelot Atoll – an uninhabited coral island about 415 miles (667km) from Guam.

It is the second time in four years people were rescued from the island.

The Coast Guard said in a statement that the three experienced mariners, all unnamed men in their 40s, had embarked on their sailing trip from Polowat Atoll – an island that is a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

They departed on Easter Sunday for Pikelot Atoll, about 115 miles (185km) away, in a traditional 20-foot skiff with an outboard motor, the Coast Guard added.

After failing to return, a relative of the men alerted the Coast Guard’s Joint Rescue Sub-Center in Guam that her three uncles were missing, sparking a search and rescue mission.

First responders were initially searching an area that was more than 78,000 square nautical miles in poor weather conditions. But then they spotted the men from the air – thanks to the makeshift “HELP” sign.

“In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelled out ‘HELP’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery,” said Lieutenant Chelsea Garcia, who led the search and rescue mission the day they were located.

“This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” she said.

Coast Guard personnel then airdropped survival packages and a radio to the men while a US Coast Guard vessel made its way to the island.

The mariners later radioed back and said they were in good health and had access to food and water, the US Coast Guard said.

They also had recovered their skiff, which sustained damage that rendered it non-functional, and said they needed help getting back to Polowat.

After departing on their voyage on 31 March, the sailors were officially rescued off the island on 9 April.

The US Coast Guard said the rescue is an example of the strong coordination between the US and the Federal States of Micronesia, as well as US Navy personnel who are stationed in the area.

Micronesia, in the western Pacific, consists of some 600 tiny islands scattered over a vast ocean expanse.

“Every life saved, and every mariner returned home is a testament to the enduring partnership and mutual respect that characterizes our relationship,” said Lieutenant Commodore Christine Igisomar, who was also part of the search and rescue mission.

Though uninhabited, Pikelot Atoll is often temporarily visited by hunters and fishermen. It has also been the site of another rescue in recent years.

In 2020, three Micronesian mariners were saved – by the Australian Defence Force – after spelling out “SOS” on the beach.

Source: BBC and RNZ

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OJ Simpson, NFL star acquitted in ‘trial of the century’, dies aged 76



OJ Simpson, the former American footballer who was controversially cleared of double murder, has died aged 76.

Orenthal James Simpson rose to fame as a college footballer before playing in the NFL.

In 1995, he was acquitted of the murder of his former wife Nicole Brown and a friend in a trial that gripped America.

In 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment on charges of armed robbery. He was released in 2017.

Simpson died of cancer on Wednesday “surrounded by his children and grandchildren”, a family statement read.

In 1994, Simpson was arrested as a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.

The pair were found stabbed to death outside Brown’s home in Los Angeles, and Simpson was an immediate person of interest in the case.

On the day he was due to turn himself in, Simpson fled in his white Ford Bronco with a former teammate, and led the police on a slow-speed chase through the Los Angeles area.

That chase engrossed audiences in both the United States and abroad as it was broadcast live on “rolling” 24-hour news channels that were still in their relative infancy.

In the ensuing court case, dubbed the “trial of the century” by US media, prosecutors argued Simpson had killed Brown in a jealous fury. Evidence included blood, hair and fibre tests linking Simpson to the murders.

The defence argued Simpson was framed by police who were motivated by racism.

In one of the trial’s most memorable moments, prosecutors asked Simpson to wear a pair of blood-stained gloves allegedly found at the scene of the murder, but Simpson struggled to put them on. It led to one of Simpson’s lawyers, Johnnie Cochrane, telling the jury in his closing arguments: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

The jury ultimately sided with Simpson, who declared he was “absolutely 100 percent not guilty”. The acquittal proved hugely controversial.

The families of Smith and Goldman did not give up – they pursued a civil case against Simpson in 1997 where a jury found Simpson liable for the two deaths. He was ordered to pay US$33.5m (NZ$57m) in damages to their families.

In 2006, Simpson sold a book manuscript, titled “If I Did It”, and a prospective TV interview, giving a “hypothetical” account of the murders he had always strenuously denied.

Public objections ended both projects, but Goldman’s family secured the book rights, added material imputing guilt to Simpson and had it published.

Simpson’s final disgrace came in 2008, when he was convicted of armed robbery for breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room with four accomplices, holding two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint and stealing items related to his NFL career.

He was sentenced to 33 years in jail, but was granted parole after serving the minimum of nine years.

Before his legal problems, Simpson was well-liked, known as an athlete, actor and the face of several major companies.

He was a college football star at University of Southern California before signing with the Buffalo Bills in 1969, where he played until 1977.

He became one of the greatest ball carriers in NFL history. In 1973, he was the first NFL player to “rush” – running to advance the ball for his team – more than 2000 yards in a season.

He retired in 1979 to concentrate on a career in film and television. His credits include roles in the Towering Inferno, Capricorn One and the Naked Gun series.

Initial public reaction to his death ranged from muted to hostile.

In a statement, the Pro Football Hall of Fame outlined Simpson’s achievements as an NFL player, and said records of those contributions would be preserved in its archive.

Fred Goldman, Ronald’s father, described Simpson’s death as “no great loss”.

“The only thing I have to say is it’s just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years,” he told the NBC News network. “It’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron’s being gone.”

Source: BBC and RNZ

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Former Fiji leader Frank Bainimarama, suspended police chief avoid jail in corruption case



Frank Bainimarama was given an absolute discharge in a packed Suva’s Magistrates Court on Thursday after last week being convicted of perverting the course of justice.

An absolute discharge is the lowest-level sentence that an offender can get. It means no conviction is registered against Bainimarama.

State broadcaster FBC reports, Magistrate Seini Puamau considered Bainimarama’s health.

The 69-year-old was sentenced alongside suspended police chief Sitiveni Qiliho, who was given a FJ$1500 fine without conviction as well.

The absolute discharge and a fine without conviction was given despite the prosecutors last week urging Magistrate Puamau to order immediate custodial sentences towards the high end of the tariff for both men – which would be no less than five years in jail for Bainimarama and 10 years for Qiliho.

Source : RNZ

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