11 Sep 2006

Official mourning for King of Tonga begins and new King sworn in

11:00 am on 11 September 2006

After a reign of 41 years the King of Tonga has passed away peacefully in Auckland aged 88.

The King who was at Auckland's Mercy Hospital died on Sunday night after a long period of illness surrounded by members of Tonga's royal family.

An official period of mourning will now begin, with many Tongans living abroad expected to travel back to the Kingdom.

The King's death marks the end of an era in Tonga which comes amidst growing calls for change on how the country is ruled.

A leading Pacific academic says the Tongan monarch is vital to Tongan identity and constitutional change will be challenging following the king's death.

The Director of the Pacific Islands Development Programme at the East West Centre in Hawaii, Sitiveni Halapua, says the king is considered the head of all Tongan families and is also entrenched in the constitution as the head of state.

Dr Halapua says any bid to change Tonga's political scene will require constitutional amendments.

The Crown Prince of Tonga is being sworn in as King this morning.

The Chief Justice of Tonga, Tony Ford, said the accession committee would be receiving His Majesty King Taufau'ahau Tupou V at Midday, Tongan time.

Justice Ford says buildings in Nuku'alofa are being wrapped in black and purple cloth as a sign of respect for the late King.