27 Mar 2012

Tongan king laid to rest

7:54 pm on 27 March 2012

Tonga's King George Tupou V has been laid to rest at the Royal Tombs.

About 10,000 people - including the new king, King Tupou VI, and delegations from around the region - listened to the church service in and around the burial grounds in the capital, Nuku'alofa, on Tuesday afternoon.

The 63-year-old monarch died in hospital in Hong Kong on 18 March and his body was returned to the tiny Pacific Island kingdom on Monday.

The funeral began at 12pm local time with 150 pallbearers carrying a catafalque bearing King George's casket to the Royal Tombs.

The procession was led by 200 soldiers and bands. The king's heir and brother, Tupou VI, the Royal Family and nobles followed behind.

The 500-metre road to the tombs was covered in tapa and lined by boys from local colleges sitting with their heads bowed.

A 200-strong military guard of honour wore white pith helmets, which the late king also enjoyed wearing.

At the end of the church service the military bugler played The Last Post, followed by Reveille and then a flag party removed the king's medals and the royal standard from the casket.

His body has been interred in a tomb alongside the four monarchs who preceded him.

Earlier, diplomatic representatives paid their respects at the Royal Palace where King George lay in state. Visitors included Prince Richard the Duke of Gloucester, Fiji president Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Samoa's head of state Tupua Tamasese Ta'isi and Japan's Prince and Princess Hitachi.

The premier of Niue, Toke Talagi, and the governors-general of Papua New Guinea and Australia, Sir Michael Ogio and Quentin Bryce, also paid their respects.

The large New Zealand delegation was led by Governor-General Lieutenant-General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

It included the Maori King, Tuheitia; Deputy Prime Minister Bill English; Labour Party leader David Shearer; Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully; Pacific Island Affairs Minister Hekia Parata and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples.

During three months of official mourning to follow the funeral, Tongans will be encouraged to wear black, with celebrations and music discouraged.