TONGA GIVES MILLENNIUM RIGHTS TO SAUDI BUSINESSMAN

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (October 15, 1998 - Agence France-Presse)---The Kingdom of Tonga, claiming it will see the first sunrise of the new century, has given the rights to organizing its millennium celebrations to a Saudi businessman, Hussein Khashoggi.

But it is not very clear where the money is coming from or whether Tonga is even first to see the new millennium, with Fiji, Kiribati and New Zealand all even, or ahead of the kingdom.

And now the Fijian organizers of Pacific millennium events have made a basic blunder over who is last to leave the old century.

The monthly Matangi Tonga magazine, in its latest issue, says Khashoggi first visited the kingdom in January in a bid to get the rights.

Khashoggi says he is the son of the former arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi.

He has now formed a company called Millennium Event Alliance and is speaking of global television coverage from a huge circular stage he plans to build.

"This will be a worldwide event similar to an Olympics, similar to a world football coverage," he told the magazine.

He said he had a number of singers who wanted to be the first to perform in the millennium as well as others wanting to perform in the new century's first sporting event.

As well, he is planning to bring in three or four cruse ships and up to 50 private yachts with around 10,000 people involved.

"Right now we can say that the millennium celebration in Tonga is potentially going to be something so big, so large, and so special that it cannot be ignored by the rest of the world."

Tonga has a long track record of getting involved in grand sounding schemes which later prove an embarrassment.

Last year King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV welcomed a group of South Korean businessmen who claimed they were going to open a plant that would transform seawater into natural gas. It proved to be a con.

In an earlier issue, Matangi Tonga suggested the kingdom's millennium events were failing even before they started.

It said international television groups had made reconnaissance trips to Tonga but had left disappointed because nothing was planned.

A Tongan-American group, National Development Corporation (NDC), had as early as 1995 planned a Miss Millennium pageant and a millennium boxing championship. They wanted to tie it in with a Papal Mass from the Vatican and a service in the U.S. by Billy Graham.

Instead the NDC chairman, an American, was declared bankrupt.

The Kingdom's National Millennium Committee has not met recently and the highlight so far of their program has been a December 31, 1999, massed choir event.

Another problem for Tonga is that its few hotels, which are of a rather modest standard, are booked out and so are the four airlines which service the capital.

Britain's Royal Geographic Society has ruled the millennium's first light will hit Pitt Island, part of the Chatham Islands, 860 kilometers (533 miles) east of New Zealand's mainland and 13 hours and 45 minutes ahead of GMT.

In Tonga, 13 hours ahead of GMT, the king has said that, if necessary, they will have daylight savings time introduced to ensure they will be first.

Neighboring Fiji will sample its first daylight savings measure next month in what is an effort to get them into at least an equal time zone with Tonga. But a plan to build a glass wall in the area of Fiji where the 180 parallel passes over land has come to nothing.

To the north, Kiribati had the misfortune to straddle the International Dateline and became the only state in the world to be in two days at any one time. In a bid to unify the country, they effectively moved the line, which means Caroline (now Millennium) -- 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) east of the capital, Tarawa and 900 kilometers (558 miles) north of Pape‘ete, French Polynesia -- would see any new day hours before Tonga and New Zealand.

The Fiji based South Pacific Millennium Consortium coordinator, Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau, has decreed that the Cook Islands will be the last country to farewell the 20th Century. But the latest issue of the Pacific Islands Monthly points out that Samoa is an hour behind the Cooks and will retain the honor of being the last. The magazine said the consortium was "making a huge and very embarrassing mistake".

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz WWW: http://www.afp.com/english/

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