Posted by: austronesia | November 17, 2006

Tonga Riots Claim Six Lives

Tonga riots claim six lives



November 17, 2006

Article from: 
The Australian

SIX bodies were found today in a burnt-out office block in Tonga’s capital Nuku’alofa following yesterday’s riots.

The six charred bodies were discovered in the ruins of the nation’s
Shoreline power company office in the central business district by
firefighters clearing the area, Tonga’s Lord Chamberlain, Honourable
Filekepi, said today.

The
dead were believed to be looters or rioters, as staff of the power
company were all accounted for after the building was torched by
rampaging youth during yesterday’s riot, he said.

Tonga’s
Government restricted people’s movements in the riot-scarred capital
today, a day after rampaging youths torched buildings, overturned cars
and looted parts of the city.

Prime Minister Fred Sevele
declared most of Nuku’alofa as a “proclaimed area” under the country’s
Public Order Preservation Act, “into which movement is severely
restricted,” government spokesman Lopeti Senituli said.

“That is not a state of national emergency, yet,” he said.

Earlier
today, officials said the Government had agreed to step up the pace of
political reforms after angry pro-democracy youths went on a violent
rampage destroying buildings and looting shops.

Calm appeared
restored after an emergency meeting of the cabinet, nobles and elected
commoners resolved to give MPs elected by popular vote the majority
voice in the next elections in 2008 in the South Pacific nation.

The central business district in Nuku’alofa resembled a warzone after youths, many fuelled by alcohol, rioted yesterday.

The burning and looting of shops, offices and government buildings continued into the night before order was restored.

“A
semblance of peace has returned to the central business district of
Nuku’alofa. That is holding,” Lopeti Senituli, the Prime Minister’s
adviser and spokesman said today.

“There was a meeting in the
Prime Minister’s office of cabinet ministers, peoples’ representatives
and representatives of the nobles and they reached an agreement which
was relayed to the pro-democracy movement.

“Under that
agreement there will be 21 people’s representatives and nine nobles
representatives in the next election. Thirty members down from 34.”

Under the current system, nobles and appointed MPs outnumber the elected representatives.

Tonga
human rights and democracy leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva was reported on the
Tonga-Now website as saying they have “won the struggle” and called for
the rioters to refrain from causing further damage.

The
rioting erupted when the legislative assembly met for the last time
this year, and it appeared likely it would adjourn without making a
decision on expanding democracy.

Although there has been no
official estimate of the cost of the damage, New Zealand’s Acting
Foreign Minister Michael Cullen said rebuilding would be required in
Nuku’alofa.

The rioters and looers set fire to shops and
buildings, damaged government offices, including the prime minister’s
department, and overturned cars.

“There will be some need for
non-military or police kinds of assistance, civilian assistance, and
clearly we would look favourably upon any request of that regard given
our responsibilities in the Pacific area,” Mr Cullen said.

Tonga,
a kingdom of around 115,000 people spread over 171 islands, 2000km
north of Auckland, has witnessed growing demonstrations over the past
year.

Last year, public protest reached a peak with a six-week public service strike.

During the strike, a royal-owned house and government cars were torched and school classrooms wrecked.

Two
months ago, the new Tongan King Siaosi Tupou V pledged to make
“appropriate changes” but stopped short of promising absolute
democracy.

Tupou V succeeded his father, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, who died on September 10 after a long illness.

AP, AFP

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