24 Nov 2006

Tonga government says coping with emergency must take precedence over dialogue on reform

4:43 pm on 24 November 2006

The Tonga government says it will be next week at least before they can consider how to go about establishing a dialogue on political reform.

King George Tupou V said in his speech from the throne that the proposals before parliament on reform are not irreconciliable and the differences can be resolved through dialogue.

The pro-democracy MPs have called on the government to indicate how it will do this but the government spokesperson, Attorney General 'Alisi Taumoepeau, says they have more pressing concerns right now.

"I am not aware at the moment of the actual process that is going to be put in place, but the willingness to go through a process is definitely there. Our immediate concern is the emergency now with hundreds if not thousands of people out of a job - that is what we are doing at the moment, but we will definitely move onto those other issues as soon as we are able to cope with the emergency that is at hand now."

Meanwhile the New Zealand Defence Minister Phil Goff says he hopes the New Zealand and Australian soldiers sent to Tonga last weekend can be withdrawn in a couple of weeks..

We went there to ensure that commercial flights could resume, to ensure that calm would remain in the capital, that there wouldn't be further destruction or loss of lives. I think we can see that coming into play now - unless something extraordinary happened and there was a further wave of violence I would hope that the withdrawal could be relatively soon - that would be in a couple of weeks.