12 Sep 2006

Fiji leaders pay tribute to Tongan king, Samoa head of state to go to funeral

4:04 pm on 12 September 2006

Fiji's political leaders have been paying tribute to Tonga's King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV following his death in Auckland on Sunday night.

The prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, says Fiji shares in the sorrow and great loss of the Tongan people as neighbours bound by strong ties of tradition and kinship.

Mr Qarase says the king was closely related to a number of chiefly households in Fiji and served Tonga with dedication for 80 years.

He says throughout the Pacific region, King Taufa'ahau was widely acknowledged and respected as a leader of status and accomplishment.

Preparations are under way by members of Fiji's high chiefly families to be at King's state funeral.

Meanwhile, Fiji's opposition leader, Mick Beddoes, says he joins with other citizens in the country in extending his condolences to the royal family and the people of Tonga.

Mr Beddoes says Tonga has been through some turbulent times and he hopes its people use this occasion to discover a new way forward.

Members of the Tongan community in Fiji, including several hundred students at the University of the South Pacific, have begun wearing black as a sign of mourning.

Samoa's 93-year-old head of state, Malietoa Tanumafili II, will be attending the royal state funeral in Tonga.

The Head of State's private secretary, Papali'i Audrey Fa'amausili Malietoa, says his highness is in good health and prepared to attend the funeral.

The Samoan government is currently making preparations for a delegation to go to Tonga.

The chief executive of the Ministry of the Prime Minister, Auseugaefa Va'asatia Poloma Komiti, says a delegation is expected to be finalized in a cabinet meeting this week.