16 Nov 2006

Rioting crowds rampage through Tongan capital over democratic reforms

8:08 pm on 16 November 2006

A mob of drunken youths associated to pro-democracy groups have rampaged through the Tongan capital, Nuku'Alofa, today attacking the prime minister's office, the court house and torching other buildings.

The rioting crowds overturned cars in the street, looted a supermarket belong to the prime minister, Dr Feleti Sevele, and smashed windows in government office buildings.

They also attacked the magistrates court, the Public Service Commission Office and the Ministry of Finance.

The offices of the Shoreline power company, which is partly owned by the King, the ANZ bank, the Pacific Royale Hotel and businesses belonging to the Chinese community were also attacked.

A number of fires were blazing but our correspondent says under resourced fire fighting services were unable to tend to many of them.

The police said a short time ago there had been no injuries and no arrests.

The rioting had started after the government deferred its sitting for today, angering pro-democracy supporters who have demanded a vote on democratic reforms before the house goes into recess for the year.

The Government had proposed putting reform ideas to a sub committee for it to consider next year, but the pro-democracy activists want to ensure changes are in place for the next general election in 2008.

Meanwhile, Tongan academic Dr Sitiveni Halapua, says the rioters' anger was fostered by the Government producing its own ideas on political reform.

Dr Halapua, from Hawaii's East West Centre, was the vice chairman of the parliamentary National Committee on Political Reform.

He took over as chair after Prince Tu'ipelehake died in a car crash in California earlier this year.

Dr Halapua says the government had been encouraging those agitating for reform to wait until the report was presented which happened in early October.

"And the people were waiting and when the report was submitted, and just before it was completed, the presentation, discussion and answering questions from the members of the House, the government came up with its alternative road map and that is what triggered everything."