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APIA, Samoa (November 23, 1998 - AFP)---Critically ill Samoa Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana resigned Monday after 16 years in power.

Tofilau, 74, who has liver cancer, rose from his wheelchair to begin addressing an emergency session of the Legislative Assembly.

But he soon handed the speech to his deputy and finance minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who was later elected by the House as the new prime minister.

In an emotional scene, Tofilau's most bitter rival, opposition leader Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese, sought forgiveness from Tofilau for their past clashes.

Quoting from William Shakespeare, he said: "We are here not to bury Caesar, but to pay tribute for his many outstanding deeds for this country."

Last month Tofilau returned from New Zealand where he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Over the past five years he has struggled with a series of major illnesses.

Although his mainly American Samoan family has flown in to be by his side, expecting imminent death, Tofilau has continued to remain lucid.

Last week Tuilaepa claimed the nation's prayers had saved the prime minister and he would be back at work in a week.

Tofilau was born on June 4, 1924 in Vaitogi, American Samoa, the son of a missionary who served in New Guinea. The family moved to then Western Samoa when he was six.

At the time, Western Samoa was a League of Nation's mandated territory governed by New Zealand.

As an adult he became a trader and planter on the biggest island of Savai'i, where he acquired the matai or chiefly title of Tofilau.

He entered the New Zealand controlled Legislative Council in 1957 and became health minister in 1959. He was a member of the Constitutional Committee from 1958 to 1960 and the Constitutional Convention in 1960.

Tofilau was one of the signatories for the Constitution of Western Samoa which was promulgated upon independence in 1962.

He left politics in 1961 but returned in 1967. Other than for a three year period in the 1970s, Tofilau has continuously served in the Legislative Assembly.

Western Samoa had no political parties until 1979 when Tofilau and Va'ai Kolone formed the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), primarily aimed at removing then Prime Minister Tupoula Efi (now Tuiatua).

Tofilau eventually won the prime ministership in 1982, holding on it ever since and as the South Pacific's longest serving head of government.

His replacement, Tuilaepa, was a career civil servant before entering the assembly in the 1970s.

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: WWW:


APIA, Samoa (November 24, 1998 - Radio Australia) The Pacific region's longest serving leader -- Samoa's Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana -- has resigned.

Radio Australia Pacific correspondent Richard Dinnen reports Tofilau has been in poor health for several years.

"Seventy-four-year-old Tofilau has had heart and other health problems for several years. This year, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and sought emergency treatment in New Zealand. He was reportedly close to death earlier this month, and while his condition has improved, it had become clear he could no longer fulfil the duties of his office.

"In an emotional emergency session of Parliament, Tofilau announced his decision to resign, after 16 years as Prime Minister and more than 50 years in public life.

"His deputy, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, was elected Prime Minister and was later sworn in.

"Tofilau says he will continue to serve as a member of the Samoan Parliament.

"His relatives have flown to Apia from neighboring American Samoa to be with him."

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