Thursday, November 16, 2006

Uneasy calm in Tonga after yesterday's riots

from Peceli,
The string of political problems even reaches the usually placid and calm islands of Tonga. There have been stirrings for some time now because of the great gulf between royalty and commoners. The build up of anger and resentment has been there even before the king died recently. The Parliament has to know this and make adjustments.
Michael Field, an experienced Pacific journalist writes about the situation.

The website of the Tongan newspaper article is here.

Uneasy calm in Tonga
UPDATED 10.10am Friday November 17, 2006 from New Zealand news.

NUKU'ALOFA - An uneasy calm settled on Tonga's capital this morning after it was reported the government bowed to a wave of violent pro-democracy protests. The AP news agency reported police and troops had taken control of central Nuku'alofa.

The apparent breakthrough came after a day of tension in the capital, where rioting crowds overturned cars, looted and set fire to shops and offices, and stoned government buildings including the prime minister's office. Osi Maama, editor of the Tongan Times, had told Newstalk ZB earlier this morning that the rioting was continuing and had spread outside the capital. Chinese-owned shops were being targeted and the police had been powerless to help, he said.
Tonga's government imposes curfew on capital.

Posted at 8:23am on 17 Nov 2006
Tonga's Government has imposed a curfew on the capital Nuku'alofa after last night's riots which left a large part of the business district in ashes.Tonga Broadcasting Commission says virtually all of the Chinese stores in downtown Nuku'alofa and many areas of Tongatapu were torched.

Its Political editor, George Lavaka, says the only thing moving in or out of Nukualofa this morning are either police or the army. "All the schools are closed today, some of the government departments, the development bank, and defence have stopped school children from going into the main centre today, because it has been cordoned off. We don't know when we are going to have an official estimate of how much damage but they will be going into the millions."

George Lavaka says the army are guarding their building after demonstrators threatened to burn it down yesterday.
Radio New Zealand International

Friday November 17, 2006
By Angela Gregory, Claire Trevett and Agencies

Tonga's capital of Nuku'alofa was ablaze last night after a democracy protest erupted into a riot involving rampaging youths. Mobs roamed the streets, overturning cars, smashing windows and setting fires while police watched. Property owned by Tonga's royal family and Prime Minister were targeted by scores of angry youths, many fuelled by alcohol.

Journalist Mateni Tapueluelu told the Herald from the city streets at 8pm (NZ time) that hundreds of Tongans were roaming the inner-city area smashing windows, trashing businesses, looting goods and setting fires.

Firefighters stood by helplessly as flames raged. "I would say 80 per cent of the CBD is burning."
The violence broke out after thousands rallied in the capital demanding a vote on proposed democratic reforms to the country's semi-feudal political system.

When the vote did not happen before Parliament went into recess for the year, youths began trashing the Prime Minister's office, the court house and other public buildings. The riots had quietened by 8.30pm and a proclamation was issued declaring the downtown area to be "under surveillance" to ensure large groups could not gather.

Dr Sevele had gone on Tongan radio appealing for calm.
As well as the Prime Minister's office, the youths attacked public buildings including the Magistrate's Court, the Public Service Commission Office and the Ministry of Finance, plus the Nuku'alofa Club, offices of the Shoreline power company, the ANZ Bank, the Pacific Royale Hotel and other businesses.

Tapueluelu reported that the rioting and burning continued after the Government held an urgent Cabinet meeting and agreed to the people's demands that 21 MPs be elected democratically by 2008.

At present just nine of the 32 MPs are elected by popular vote. The rest are appointed by the King.

It appeared many of the rioters were not aware the Government had apparently acceded to their demands - because their leaders were not able to communicate with them as the kingdom's AM radio station was off the air.
A blogger from New Zealand has an interesting article about Lopeti Senituli an activist - sometimes called a 'Tongan Revolutionary'. He spent his younger days in Fiji and the writer calls the SCM there (a Christian group) Marxist! The blog article is found here.


David Stanley said...

Since the king and his appointed government were in charge at the time, they must bear responsibility for the rioting. They should have foreseen what would happen if they tried to stall on democratic reforms. I expect the Tongan monarchy to survive but to have only symbolic powers in future.

Anonymous said...

If anything had to burn, it’s too bad that it wasn’t the obscene mansion of the king that was built on the fleecing of the poor Tongans that have had enough and want a say in government.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

David and anonymous:

I have been asking Tongan friends for years what do they think of the monarchy, the nobles, and the grossly unfair system. They usually smile benignly and say, we want to respect the king, though we know it is unfair. They also say it has to change. Perhaps order is more important than justice for some people.

Yes, the king and nobles must surely have known that protests would eventually lead to destruction.

I hate violence and often innocent people get hurt in the fray, but I can understand the frustration and of course young drunk kids join in the action and target anyone.

When I visited Tonga years ago it was a charming place and Nukualofa seemed a lot like Nausori in Fiji. Shops run by Tongans then. The Chinese came more recently with gifts of passports from the former king and I guess that's why they have been targeted also.

Anonymous said...

you bloody idiot Tongans you are so educated but are so stupid the nobles where and are the appointed family heads which are the uncles fathers brothers or grandfathers of the idiot rioters they are in charge of the designated area and are responsible for their people whom are related some how it was done like that years ago as the nobles where the ones to make sure their families where provided for that is a democratic society Island style i would like to know what these rioters think they have achieved by destroying their own city and the good name Tonga had for peace. Tongan a very predigest and racist the poor Chinese migrated from china they packed their families up and their lives to maybe get a better live for their family and they all work hard the bloody Tongans arrive in Australia jump straight on the doll work as well for cash and never go back to mother home land Tonga because their is nothing their for them and most of them are lazy, but Tonga educated them and where is the thank you, You rioters and instigators of rioting should be put in front of the firing squad
what you rioting chief should do is get all your army of imbeciles and make a plan how to fix the country Tonga has no industries and does rely on money from overseas what does the rioter want to control the empty bank balance
Tonga had a Great money making opportunity to create a industry in tourism as Tonga is such a beautiful place, It was Known to be a peaceful place a safe place a friendly ISLAND NOW THE RIOTERS HAVE TAKEN THAT AWAY NOT THE GOVERNMENT. I am Australian i am married to a Tongan our daughter is 2 years old she has been to Tonga 4 times to visit the relatives now I will be very hesitant to allow her to go again.
I am very sorry for the people and all the hard work that the previous King and his parliament and family have done for Tonga working with a nation that has no money no industries nothing to offer except promise and the royal word which has been dragged threw the mud but still be proud to stand by their people and not to flied and still stay and try to help even when they get burnt to the ground shows courage not like the rioters cowards,

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Thank you Anonymous for your passion and concern. It is certainly a tragedy what has happened. It's not the end of the world for Tonga as they will have to rebuild and sort things out.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Tonga and that is my home - my family lives there - I am very upset with the riots and destruction caused and by the ethnic motivation for the looting and violence against the chinese and indian shopkeepers who are tongan citizens and married to tongans. This violence and looting is not the christian way and not part of our culture - it has certainly tarnished the view of the pro-democracy movement among educated tongans living abroad our economy is devastated by what has happened, it has created tension and feelings of fear and the tourists and foreign nationals are fleeing. I am upset by those people who are not Tongans and who try and comment on our situation and country.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Malo lelei, 3rd Anonymous.
Peceli and I are very sad at what has eventuated and also do not presume to know the whole story. We only write because we are concerned. We have many Tongan friends and there's a family connection also.
On another blog there was a discussion about whether foreign people can make judgments about another country/culture and of course in the situation in Tonga, many journalists and bloggers second-guess and are opinionated. I hope that my comments can be respectful and compassionate.
Okay, I am a papalagi so I apologize if I have made errors in my comments.