Sunday, March 18, 2012

King who steered Tonga towards democracy dies aged 63

The king of Tonga, George Tupou V, who was credited with introducing democracy to the South Pacific archipelago after riots following his ascension in 2006, died in a Hong Kong hospital on Sunday.

His younger brother, Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, who is heir to the throne, was with him when he died at the age of 63.

Tongan radio read a government statement announcing his death. The prime minister, Lord Siale'ataonga Tu'ivakano, declared that the royal family and entire nation was in mourning, ending his address with a Tongan expression meaning "The sun has set".

On ascending the throne after the death of his father, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, the Oxford-educated king said he would relinquish most of his power in the last Polynesian monarchy and be guided by his prime minister's recommendations on most matters.

The first direct elections were held in November 2010 after 165 years of feudal rule.

Tongan media reports say the king underwent a liver transplant last year and had also been diagnosed with cancer.

The king was known to the outside world for eccentricities such as being driven around in a London taxi, and will be remembered by many for his throwback fashion choices, which included wearing, at times, a top hat and even a monocle.

New Zealand's prime minister, John Key, released a statement saying that his thoughts were with the people of Tonga.

"I would like to acknowledge the very valuable contribution the king has made in steering Tonga towards democracy and hope this work will continue," Key said. "He believed that the monarchy was an instrument of change and can truly be seen as the architect of evolving democracy in Tonga. This will be his enduring legacy."

Tonga, which comprises 170 islands, has a population of 106,000 and lies south of Samoa, about 1,320 miles northeast of New Zealand.

From : The Guardian