Former Vanuatu prime minister Edward Natapei dies
The former Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Edward Natapei, died early this morning.
The leader of the opposition and leader of the Vanua'aku Pati, had reportedly been chronically ill for some time, and is thought to have succumbed to an asthma attack.
Don Wiseman has more.
Edward Natapei, who was 61, had been prime minister for 3 years from 2001 and then for most of the years, 2008 to 2010 - both periods marked by bitter political rivalry. He recently became opposition leader when the Joe Natuman government was toppled by Sato Kilman. A former government spokesman, Kiery Manassah, says he was highly respected.
KIERY MANASSAH: This is really sad news, not only for the Vanua'aku Pati, but for the country as a whole, we've been getting messages from all kinds of people just paying him respect and appreciating the level of commitment that he's had to the country.
Mr Natapei was one of Vanuatu's longest serving MPs, having been first elected in 1983. A long time political colleague, and sometime rival, Willie Jimmy, remembers that time.
WILLIE JIMMY Before that we were working together in an organisation that is called Vanuatu Co-operative Federation. We worked together there and also we were ex-employees of the Pacific International Trust Company or PITCO, and from there we made our way to the Vanuatu Parliament in 1983 - the first general election in Vanuatu after its independence.
Mr Jimmy who served in a number of ministerial roles in Mr Natapei's governments says Vanuatu has lost a great leader. He says Mr Natapei's health had been deteriorating for some time.
WILLIE JIMMY: On one of my visits to Australia he had asked me to get some of his prescription from Australia, his medication, that was about 3 years back but all along, the former Prime Minister and leader of the Vanu'aku Pati, we could tell from the outside that his health was deteriorating.
The communication director of the Vanuatu based Pacific Policy Institute, Ben Bohane, says Mr Natapei was well regarded by the people of Vanuatu.
BEN BOHANE: He had a very nice temperament. He was very easy going. Most people remember him as an honest and very straight forward politician. I never heard of any scandal around him. I think he was always perceived to be a very straight and honest politician who championed a number of causes. He was a strong champion of the West Papuans and took their message to the world in a number of speeches to the United Nations and here so I'm sure the West Papuans will be feeling his loss. In Vanuatu itself, many people just recognise him as being a really good leader.
Veteran journalist Bob Makin says Mr Natapei was formidable, well liked and principled. He says he will be remembered for his efforts to have the country re-embrace the values it held dearly in the years immediately after gaining independence.
BOB MAKIN: He was amongst a group of those who were anxious to get back to the values that Vanuatu felt it was seeking and in many cases had at the time of independence 35 years ago come Thursday which is Independence Day. He was trying for so long. When he was Prime Minister back in about 2001 or 2002, he was trying even then to get back to the values of Vanuatu's independence.
Bob Makin says these traditional values include the respect for custom land that was achieved with major reforms undertaken by the previous government. A state funeral is planned for Friday in Port Vila.
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