Lift state of emergency: Tongan MP

April 16, 2007 - 2:14PM

A democracy campaigner in Tonga has again warned his country could erupt in violence as the government extended a state of emergency for a fifth month.

Akilisi Pohiva, the chairman of the People's Committee for Political Reform and a member of the Tongan parliament, said people in the tiny South Pacific nation were frustrated by curbs on their freedom under the emergency declaration.

"If the government will continue on extending the emergency laws without any good reason, my feeling is that the people will eventually get angry and then their anger might get out of hand," Pohiva said.

"There is still no indication of the time they will lift the emergency law. I think they need to make it clear now," he said.

The Privy Council decided on Friday to extend the state of emergency in Tonga until May 17, after a recommendation from the kingdom's Police Minister, Siaosi'Aho.

The declaration followed riots in November last year, in which most of the business centre in the capital, Nuku'alofa, was destroyed and eight people died.

The riots broke out amid fears the nation's parliament would delay democratic reforms of the country's semi-feudal system - promised after the death of Tonga's long-serving monarch King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in September.

Pohiva, who will travel to Australia to give a speech on Tonga at the Australian National University next week, said his country was like a pressure cooker.

He said people were increasingly angry at the loss of civil liberties, which he said extended to what could be shown on television and heard on the radio.

He said the state of emergency outlawed gatherings of more than four people, meaning he could not hold large meetings with his constituents and his committee could not meet.

"It only requires a small thing to spark the anger and frustration of the people. That was exactly what happened on November 16," he said.

The damage bill from the riots has been estimated at $A88.5 million. Australia and New Zealand are actively involved in efforts to help the nation recover.

Following last year's unrest, the government agreed to a plan ensuring 21 of the 30 seats in parliament would be occupied by elected representatives, starting in 2008.

The king currently appoints the majority of MPs, the prime minister and cabinet.


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